The Life and Legacy of Punk Icon Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer who blazed her own trail, bringing punk to high fashion, died on December 29th in South London at the age of 81. Her death was announced by her company, which did not specify the cause.

Born in the small village of Tintwistle, England in 1941, Vivienne Swire didn’t take on the name of Westwood until her first marriage to Derek Westwood in 1962. Little did she know it would stick around long after the divorce, becoming a fashion brand amid the mid-1970s punk movement in London. 

Westwood was a young primary school art teacher and single mother when she met Malcom McLaren, manager of punk rock band the Sex Pistols, in 1965. After becoming romantically involved, she helped McLaren develop the band’s look, dressing its members in designs ranging from shredded t-shirts to bondage suits and chains, with anarchist symbols, swastikas, inverted crucifixes – anything that would provoke. Later, Westwood and McLaren opened their own store called Let It Rock at 430 King’s Road in London, which sold fettish wear and clothing inspired by Teddy Boy youth subculture popular in Britain from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. 

Soon, she became the spikey-haired, spunky priestess of punk who steered London’s counter-culture movement and dominated the fashion scene, despite never having studied fashion formally. When she and McLaren ended their relationship, the latter told Westwood that she would never be successful without him. But she defied him, just like she had defied the establishment, and came to define punk style, using rock iconography, royalty, art, and religion as motifs that screamed rebellion, inspiring generations of designers to come.

After 5 decades of work in the fashion industry, Vivienne Westwood cemented her place among the most influential British designers of the 20th century. All the while, she held onto her individualistic style and her conviction for the causes she cared about, often speaking out against consumerism and capitalism well after the punk era came to an end. Rather than fit in, she chose to stand out, molding fashion trends instead of following them. She is, and always will be, a fashion icon.

© Roza M. Melkumyan (01/04/23) FF2 Media


Read more about Lorna Tucker’s documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist – a love letter to the iconic designer and her individualistic style – in my review here

Read more about the life and legacy of Vivienne Westwood from the NYT.


Featured photo: Vivienne Westwood – ‘Active Resistance to Propaganda’ taken by cliqmo_. Photo has been resized to fit featured photo dimensions. All Rights Reserved.

Top photo: Wikipedia Commons

Tags: fashion design, fashion designer, punk, punk icon, Roza Melkumyan, Vivienne Westwood, Westwood

Related Posts

As a member of the FF2 Media team, Roza writes features and reviews and coaches other associates and interns. She joined the team as an intern during her third year of study at New York University. There she individualized her major and studied narrative through a cultural lens and in the mediums of literature, theatre, and film. At school, Roza studied abroad in Florence and London, worked as a Resident Assistant, and workshopped a play she wrote and co-directed. After graduating, she spent six months in Spain teaching English and practicing her Spanish. In 2019, she spent a year in Armenia teaching university English as a Fulbright scholar. She has continued to live in Armenia, and loves every second of it. Her love of film has only grown over the years, and she is dedicated to providing the space necessary for female filmmakers to prosper.
Previous Post Next Post