Born: Vivienne Isabel Swire in Glossop, Derbyshire, 8 April 1941. Education: Studied one term at Harrow Art School, then trained as a teacher. Family: Children: Ben, Joseph. Career: Taught school before working as designer, from circa 1971; with partner Malcolm McLaren, proprietor of boutique variously named Let It Rock, 1971, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, 1972, Sex, 1974, Seditionaries, 1977, and World's End, from 1980; second shop, Nostalgia of Mud, opened, 1982; Mayfair shop opened, 1990; first showed under own name, 1982; taught at Academy of Applied Arts, Vienna, 1989-91; first full menswear collection launched, 1990; opened Tokyo shop, 1996; introduced denim line, Anglomania, 1997; fragrances include Boudoir, 1998; and Boudoir, 2000. Exhibitions: Retrospective, Galerie Buchholz & Schipper, Cologne, 1991; retrospective, Bordeaux, 1992; Vivienne Westwood: The Collection of Romilly McAlpine, Museum of London, 2000. Awards: British Designer of the Year award, 1990, 1991; Order of the British Empire (OBE), 1992; Fashion Group International awards, 1996. Address: Unit 3, Old School House, The Lanterns, Bridge Lane, Battersea, London SW11 3AD, England. Website: www.viviennewestwood.com.
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Vivienne Westwood's clothes have been described as perverse, irrelevant, and unwearable. Her creations have also been described as brilliant, subversive, and incredibly influential. She is unquestionably among the most important fashion designers of the late 20th century and beyond
Westwood will go down in history as the fashion designer most closely associated with punks, the youth subculture that developed in England in the 1970s. Although her influence extends far beyond the era, Westwood's relationship with the punk subculture is critically important to an understanding of her style. Just as the mods and hippies had developed their own styles of dress and music, so did the punks. Yet while the hippies extolled love and peace, the punks emphasized sex and violence. Punk was about nihilism, blankness and chaos, and sexual deviancy, especially sadomasochism and fetishism. The classic punk style featured safety pins piercing cheeks or lips, spiky hairstyles, and deliberately revolting clothes, which often appropriated the illicit paraphernalia of pornography.
Westwood captured the essence of confrontational antifashion long before other designers recognized the subversive power of punk style. In the 1970s Westwood and her partner Malcolm McLaren had a shop in London successively named Let It Rock (1971), Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die (1972), Sex (1974), and Seditionaries (1977). In the beginning the emphasis was on a 1950s-revival look derived from the delinquent styles of 1950s youth culture. In 1972 the shop was renamed after the slogan on a biker's leather jacket, heralding the new brutalism that would soon spread throughout both street fashion and high fashion. Black leather evoked not only antisocial bikers like the Hell's Angels, but also sadomasochistic sex, which was then widely regarded as "the last taboo."
Westwood's Bondage collection of 1976 was particularly important. Working primarily in black, especially black leather and rubber, she designed clothes that were studded, buckled, strapped, chained, and zippered. Westwood talked to people who were into sadomasochistic sex and researched the "equipment" they used. "I had to ask myself, why this extreme form of dress? Not that I strapped myself up and had sex like that. But on the other hand I also didn't want to liberally understand why people did it. I wanted to get hold of those extreme articles of clothing and feel what it was like to wear them." Taken from the hidden sexual subculture that spawned it and flaunted it on the street, bondage fashion began to take on a new range of meanings. "The bondage clothes were ostensibly restricting," she said, "but when you put them on they gave you a feeling of freedom."
Sex was "one of the all-time greatest shops in history," recalled pop star Adam Ant. The shop sign was in padded pink letters and the window was covered, except for a small opening, through which one could peep and see items like pornographic t-shirts. Westwood, in fact, was prosecuted and convicted for selling a t-shirt depicting two cowboys with exposed penises. Other shirts referred to child molesting and rape, or bore aggressive slogans like "Destroy" superimposed over a swastika and an image of the Queen.
Sex was implicitly political for Westwood; when she renamed the shop Seditionaries, it was to show "the necessity to seduce people into revolt." She insisted sex was fashion, and deliberately torn clothing was inspired by old movie stills. She also launched the fashion for underwear as outerwear, showing bras worn over dresses. From the beginning she exploited the erotic potential of extreme shoe fashions, from leopard-print stiletto-heeled pumps to towering platform shoes and boots with multiple straps and buckles.
"When we finished punk rock we started looking at other cultures," recalled Westwood. "Up till then we'd only been concerned with emotionally charged rebellious English youth movements…. We looked at all the cults that we felt had this power." The result was the Pirates Collection of 1981, which heralded the beginning of the New Romantics Movement. The Pirates Collection utilized historical revivalism, 18th-century shirts and hats, rather than fetishism, but like the sexual deviant, the pirate also evoked the mystique of the romantic rebel as outcast and criminal. Meanwhile, in 1980 the shop was renamed World's End, and in 1981 Westwood began to show her collections in Paris, finally recognized internationally as a major designer.
Like pirates and highwaymen, Westwood and McLaren wanted "to plunder the world of its ideas." The Savages Collection (1982) showed Westwood gravitating toward a tribal look—the name was deliberately offensive and shocking—and the clothes oversized, in rough fabrics, and with exposed seams. Subsequent collections, like Buffalo, Hoboes, Witches, and Punkature, continued Westwood's postmodern collage of disparate objects and images.
In 1985 Westwood launched her "mini-crini," a short hooped skirt inspired by the Victorian crinoline, and styled with a tailored jacket and platform shoes. "I take something from the past which has a sort of vitality that has never been exploited—like the crinoline," she said. Westwood insisted that "there was never a fashion invented that was more sexy, especially in the big Victorian form." She also revived the corset, another much maligned item of Victoriana—and an icon of fetish fashion. Certainly her corsets and crinolines forced people to reexplore the meaning of controversial fashions. As she moved into the late 1980s and 1990s, Westwood continued to transgress boundaries, not least by rejecting her earlier faith in antiestablishment style in favor of a subversive take on power dressing. Like "Miss Marple on acid," Westwood appropriated twinsets and tweeds, and even the traditional symbols of royal authority.
As the century drew to a close, Westwood still delighted in taking the fashion world to task. While her contemporaries and a crop of new designers were concentrating on airy, fluid, feminine ensembles, Westwood took the opposite tack with revealingly tight, clinging dresses with bawdy drawings. She expanded her reach with her first store outside the UK, in Tokyo in 1996, then launched a new denim collection, Anglomania, in 1997. Her own fragrances followed, with Boudoir in 1998 and Libertine in 2000. By the time Westwood opened a flagship store in New York, appropriately located in SoHo, she already had 20 in Asia, five in England, and another slated for Los Angeles.
Though the business part of her growing empire isn't nearly as fun as designing, the Vivienne Westwood name had been attracting new generations, even cyber shoppers. Westwood accessories and her fragrances sell at various Internet sites, and the irreverent fashion queen even launched her own website. Talking with Women's WearDaily (27 November 2000), she mused on her recognition. "Most people have never seen my clothes," she said, "but they've heard of me." Indeed.
updated by Sydonie Benét
Born Vivienne Swire in Glossop in Derbyshire in 1941, Vivienne Westwood originally set out to become a teacher. She married Derek Westwood in 1962; her first child was born a year later and she seemed destined to lead a quiet, suburban life. However, in 1965 she met Malcolm McLaren, a publicist and impresario, whose subversive ideas and alternative
lifestyle gave Westwood the opportunity and momentum to break free from her former life and embark on a highly successful career of fashion.
Vivienne Westwood's designs are a reaction against traditional British standards of morality—against petty bourgeois notions of etiquette and propriety. Since her early street style-based collaborations with McLaren, Westwood has defied the ideal of polite, anonymous clothes that express the wearer's ascribed social status. She seeks to transcend definitions of class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and create outfits that are dramatic—that encourage wearers to carry themselves confidently as they masquerade in theatrical assimilations of eighteenth-century aristocratic dress or traditionally tailored suits adorned with fetish bondage buckles. West-wood is a utopian. Through her work and the ideas she expresses in interviews, she strives to construct new personae for future cultures that draw upon idealized visions of the past inspired by portraiture and film.
During the early to mid-1970s, she and McLaren merged tough biker leather jackets with pornographic imagery and traditional tartans to produce the DIY (doit-yourself) aesthetic that expressed the antiestablishment spirit of punk. Based in London's King's Road, they changed the name of their shop from time to time to enhance the current collection's ideals, from Let It Rock (1971) to Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die (1973) to Sex (1974) and finally to Seditionaries (1976)—a name and anarchic style that coincided with the increased notoriety of the Sex Pistols, a punk rock band that McLaren managed. Punk enabled Westwood to break free from the suburbs she had felt trapped in and experiment with fashion's power to shock and challenge. Her sex shop-style plastic miniskirts worn with ripped fishnet stockings, buckles, and chains, fractured traditional notions of femininity and beauty. Along with her straggly-knit sweaters, Karl Marx portrait print shirts, and bondage trousers, they became emblems of pop cultural revolt.
Westwood's subsequent work with McLaren was just as closely linked to youth culture, music, and clubs. As her King's Road shop settled into its final incarnation as World's End in 1980, she embarked on a series of collections that explored historical construction techniques. One example was Pirates, presented at her first catwalk show in 1981. She continued to play with the relation-ship between body and fabric in the multilayered bulk of the Buffalo collection of 1982–1983 and the Witches collection of 1983–1984, which used sweatshirt fabric cut to pull away from the figure. These collections have inspired other designers; for example, punk was revisited in the early 1990s by Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld. Westwood's asymmetrical sportswear-based designs, highlighted with the neon colors that she used in her last collections with McLaren between 1983 and 1984, were seen on catwalks and in such High Street stores as Top-shop and H & M in 2002–2003.
Westwood's split from McLaren prompted her shift away from pop culture and street style toward a more thorough exploration of history and tradition. She no longer wanted to be seen as a creator of subcultural dress, but rather as a designer of high fashion posing serious questions about culture, art, and identity. While her standing as one of the most significant British designers of the period was already established in mainland Europe, America, and Japan, she remained an outsider in Britain itself. It was not until the late 1980s that such high fashion magazines as Vogue began to feature her work on a regular basis. Before that time, her clothes were seen mainly in style magazines like The Face and i-D.
Westwood's first post-McLaren collection, Mini Crini (1986), indicated the direction she was to take, with its juxtaposition of eighteenth-century corsets, the "crini" (abbreviated 1860s-style crinolines), and huge curved wooden platform shoes that laced up the leg and rocked forward as the wearer walked in them. This collection was fashion created to make an impact; Westwood wanted to distinguish her wearers through references to grandeur, royalty, and the Establishment. In 1987 this dramatic aura was tempered by Westwood's ironic wit and her expertise with rich traditional fabrics: Harris tweed, John Smedley fine knits, and wool barathea were enlivened with such flourishes as a tweed crown worn with a tiny cape and crini. "You have a much better life if you wear impressive clothes," she remarked at the time (Jones, p. 57).
Westwood's philosophy, a mixture of contempt for late twentieth-century casual dress and reverence for the eighteenth-century Enlightenment's use of classical references, was encapsulated in her collections from 1988 through 1991 under the broad title Britain Must Go Pagan. These collections, like the punk fashions before them, sought to challenge existing ideas of status, gender, and display. In this case, however, Westwood strove for refinement and education rather than youthful rebellion. She used togas to add grandeur to traditional suiting, and contrasted light, floating chiffons that evoked both ancient Greece and prerevolutionary France with thick Scottish tweeds and corsets photoprinted with Boucher paintings of rural idylls. The clothing that resulted from these combinations relied heavily upon an idealized vision of the past and required its wearers to take on new personae that suggested their awareness of the fine arts.
Westwood appropriated emblems of aristocratic status and elitism for their power and theatricality. She encouraged people to dress up in princess-style coats like those the Queen wore as a child, or in delicate silk coats with rose-strewn edges like an eighteenth-century gentleman's garment. She has continued to draw on these themes of heritage and culture in her subsequent work. While Westwood is always considered inherently British, and has undoubtedly drawn upon her own country's past, she has been equally transfixed by French art and style. This attraction was summarized in her autumn–winter 1993–1994 collection, Anglomania, which harked back to Parisians' fascination with Englishness in the 1780s.
Westwood has consolidated her label since the late 1990s. In 1993 she diversified her collections to appeal to different audiences: the Red Label for ready-to-wear styles, the Gold Label for made-to-measure garments, and in 1998, and the diffusion line Anglomania (a less expensive collection aimed at a younger market), which reinterprets such staples as the pirate shirts from her earlier collections. Along with her perfumes, Boudoir, launched in 1998, and Libertine, launched in 2000, this diversification has enabled her to widen her market and build upon her previous successes.
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British designer Vivienne Westwood (born 1941) is often credited with being the creator of "punk fashions, " among other trend-setting styles.
Vivienne Westwood was born in Tinwhistle, England, in 1941. Following just one term at the Harrow Art School, Westwood left and trained to become a primary school teacher. She earned her living teaching until she crossed paths with Malcolm McLaren, the man behind the punk rock group The Sex Pistols.
Under McLaren's guidance and influence, Westwood slid into the world of youthful fashion, which reflected the turmoil of those rebellious times. She was responsible for mirroring and outfitting the social movements characterized by the growing segments of British population known as the Teddy Boys, Rockers, and, finally, the Punks.
In 1971 the duo began making drastic changes in British style with a series of shops located at 430 Kings Road. The first was Let It Rock, a 1950s revival boutique, coinciding with the Teddy Boys movement and zoot suits. The store also sold 1950s memorabilia and rock music. Then in 1972 the shop was changed to Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die, a name stolen from a biker's jacket. In 1974 Westwood and McLaren opened their infamous Sex Shop, selling bondage and fetish fashions of rubber and leather. Rock star Adam Ant has commented that, "Sex was one of the all-time greatest shops in history."
The concept of satirical style and subversive chic was foremost in Westwood and McLaren's minds. Both were once prosecuted for wearing T-shirts that depicted a homosexual cowboy.
In 1975 they opened Seditionaries, the first authentic punk clothing shop in London. Jon Savage, a Face magazine writer, then called their look "the only modern look of the '70s." The shop translated the hard edges of street style in an interior filled with photos of a bombed-out, war-torn London. When her Pirate collection coincided with the New Romantic fashion movement in London, the shop changed focus again, becoming Worlds End, with a bizarre fantasy interior of slate tiles, cuckoo clocks, and sloping floors. Her next collection was dubbed Clothes for Heros, and her patrons included the soon-to-be-famous Boy George.
Westwood's next three collections, Savage (1981) and Hobo and Buffalo (both in 1982), were highly innovative, and her wildly staged shows (models square dancing to Appalachian music covered with mud makeup) affected the show styles of other designers.
Soon after, another shop opened in London's fashionable West End with a 3-D map of Africa. It was called Nostalgia of Mud, the name a slam of middle-class longings for low-life seedy chic. Westwood's clothing at this time consisted of rags tangled in hair, bras worn outside disheveled clothing, and ripped and torn T-shirts.
In 1983 Westwood's alliance with McLaren came to an explosive and painful end. Without his tutelage and often overbearing guidance, Westwood began to extend her design range. The Witches Collection (summer of 1983), the first completely on her own, was a highly successful showing of oddly shaped, cut, and proportioned garments (the neckline often found under the arm) based on a book about voodoo she had read. Her clothing was cut, not on a board, but on the body, pulling, draping, and then, finally, cutting.
After several seasons' absence, Westwood came back strong with her fall 1985 collection centered on the bubble-shaped hooped skirt with thigh-high stockings. Westwood's Mini-Crinis caused a shift in silhouette that was swiftly picked up, first by Jean Paul Gaultier, then by almost every other designer in Europe and New York. In fact, 1986 was dubbed by fashion seers as The Year That Went Pouf, and all because of Vivienne Westwood. Through the 1990s Westwood continued to reign as Queen of Punk Fashion. She scandalized and outraged the world of fashion with bare-breasted models and bizarre creations at yearly shows in Paris and other centers of design. A childhood friend, Fred Vermorel, wrote a biography of Westwood in 1996.
Westwood and McLaren can be justified in claiming that they invented "punk fashions, " and, despite her rebellious nature, the fashion establishment recognized her work as important. Her Pirate outfit was the centerpiece of the modern dress collection in London's Victoria & Albert Museum. Decadent, depraved, and demented are all words that describe the fashions of Vivienne Westwood. She once said of her designs, "My aim is to make the poor look rich and the rich look poor."
Additional information on designers and fashions can be found in the Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (1988), McDowell's Directory of 20th Century Fashion (1987), and Catherine McDermott's Street Style (1987). See also Andrew Edelstein's The Pop Sixties (1985), Alison Lurie's The Language of Clothes (1983), and Melissa Sones' Getting into Fashion (1984). A biography was written in 1996, Fred Vermorel, Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity and the Sixties Laid Bare. Articles and reviews of fashion shows include "Marion Hume, Portrait of a Former Punk, " Vogue (September, 1994) and Amy M. Spindler, "Treating History with a Sense of Pride, " New York Times (March 17, 1997). □