Vivienne Westwood: From Mother of Punk to Climate Rebel

Vivienne Westwood outside of her shop SEX

This is an earlier article we’ve republished when we learned Vivienne Westwood died. Her mix of aesthetics and activism and belief that fashion can be a voice of change has been an ongoing inspiration for all of us here.

As one of the most influential British designers of all time, Vivienne Westwood’s work continues to give modern fashion a rebel’s edge. She’s shown creativity through rejecting conformity time and time again during her 50+ year long career. From the punk rock underground to mainstream fashion, Vivienne Westwood is a style pioneer unlike any other.

Malcolm McLaren + Vivienne Westwood

Mother of Punk

With no formal training in garment making, Vivienne Westwood began designing with her partner Malcolm McLaren. Vivienne Westwood created clothes for the Sex Pistols to match the same crude, blunt and rough charm of the punk band. If you wanted to stand out then you wore her designs. In 1971, McLaren and Westwood opened their boutique. The name changed each year from SEX to Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die and others. –Changing each time they released a collection. This early phase consisted of politically charged graphic tees, safety pin jewelry, black leather, and fetish wear. At the time these clothes were a cultural shock to the general public but in 2021’s harness and safety pin trends its obvious Vivienne Westwood was right all along.

Vivienne Westwood Established

Linda Evangelista & Kate Moss in Vivienne Westwood

Around the early 1980s Vivienne Westwood split from Malcolm McLaren to establish her own brand. This also marked her departure from the punk rock scene. Embracing the growing expression of women’s sexuality, Vivienne Westwood continued to push back against conformist society. This was seen in her Spring/Summer 1985 collection that featured the “mini-crini”, a modern take on the crinoline undergarment mixed with the mini skirt craze of the 1980s. She reimagined the restrictive corset into an object of liberation. The iconic corset has seen a resurgence of love in the historic and archival fashion trends.

Across the Pond

Westwood’s influence is seen here in Tokyo Streetstyle

The 1990s had given Vivienne Westwood much love within European and American fashion enthusiasts but also amongst Japanese youth subcultures. Punk visuals and English motifs appealed to the goth and Brit-rock teens of Japan. The cool kids of Tokyo carry her handbags, wear the iconic orb necklaces and rings. From seamstress in London to a defining designer amongst Harajuku teens, the power of a rebel is internationally recognized.

Climate Revolution

Vivienne Westwood’s mission is to reduce her brand’s contribution to climate change. She created the Climate Revolution Manifesto to critique and reject civilization’s treatment of the environment. For her Spring/Summer 2020 collection garments were made of organic cotton and natural flax stitched together with thread sourced from the trees of well-managed forests. After all these years her work continues to play on ideas of British identity, historic reference and clothing as protest. Vivienne Westwood’s sustainability initiative shows that artistry doesn’t have to be traded in for responsibility.  In her own words “The future is quality, not quantity”.

For Vivienne Westwood punk never died; it’s just busy saving the world.

–Julia Yi

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