“This woman was once a punk”. That was the headline in 1989 under the cover of the British glossy magazine “Tatler”, in which Vivienne Westwood embodied the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a confusingly similar way.
The unruly fashion designer, who professed to throw a spanner in the works at an early age, wore a suit by conventional brand Aquascutum. Thatcher had ordered it, but then changed his mind. Westwood, the eternal provocateur and activist, wanted to expose the prime minister as a heartless hypocrite with this action.
Punk and a fascination for historical costumes
Strong political feelings and the desire to go against the grain were also among the characteristics of the designer, who began her professional career as a primary school teacher. Their designs shaped the punk era in the early 1970s. At that time she had opened a shop in London’s King’s Road with her partner Malcolm McClaren, who later became manager of the punk band “Sex Pistols”.
For all her rebelliousness, her style also betrayed a fascination for historical costumes and fabrics such as tweed and tartan, to which she gave an idiosyncratic twist.
Coming from a middle English working-class family, she was celebrated as an enfant terrible by the establishment and ennobled as a lady of the British Empire. Princess Eugenie, the groom’s cousin, even had Vivienne Westwood dress her up in three different outfits for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.
Vivienne Westwood was involved on many fronts. She was a member of the campaign for nuclear disarmament, she was passionate about environmental issues, designed a whole collection in honor of American whistleblower Chelsea Manning and supported WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was imprisoned in England, against his extradition to the United States she protested in a huge birdcage, dressed in budgie yellow clothes.
Vivienne Westwood passed away peacefully on Thursday evening at the age of 81 surrounded by her family at home in south London. She did what she loved until the last moment: design, make art, work on a book and change the world for the better.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, which owns several of her designs, hailed Vivienne Westwood as “a true revolutionary and rebellious force in fashion”. And Culture Minister Michelle Donelan described her as an outstanding figure in British fashion who has remained true to her own values throughout her life.