“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 rebellious 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 and opposed his extradition to the United States in a giant birdcage, dressed in budgie-yellow clothing.
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.
Numerous politicians, artists and long-time companions paid tribute to the fashion designer for her life’s work. “Vivienne Westwood was a creative icon who helped cement Britain’s place at the forefront of modern fashion,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote on Twitter Thursday night. British culture minister Michelle Donelan spoke of a “sad day”: Westwood was an outstanding figure in British fashion. “Her punk style rewrote the rule book in the 1970s and was widely admired for staying true to her own values throughout her life,” Donelan tweeted.
Her husband Andreas Kronthaler, to whom she was married for around 30 years, said goodbye with personal words: “We worked to the end and she gave me many things that I can continue with. Thank you darling.”
Numerous greats from fashion, music and film also commemorated the designer. Vivienne Westwood’s genius and her unique voice are irreplaceable and will be missed, supermodel Claudia Schiffer wrote in an Instagram story. Artist Yoko Ono wrote on Twitter: “What a woman – so young at heart, motivated, beautiful and elegant.” In a tweet, pop star Boy George called Westwood the “undisputed queen of British fashion.” Ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham condoled in an Instagram story Westwood’s family. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis called Westwood a “true icon” on Instagram and wrote, “rest in punk.”
A statement on Westwood’s official Instagram account said: “Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, designing, working on her art, writing her book and changing the world for the better until the last moment. She led an amazing life. Her innovation and influence over the past 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.” Westwood considered herself a Taoist. Even when she was old, she took part in demonstrations, campaigned for environmental protection and called for the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. “The world needs people like Vivienne to change things for the better,” the Instagram message said.