Vivienne Westwood was born Vivienne Isabel Swire to Gordon Swire and Dora Swire
in England on April 8, 1941. She moved to London at the age of seventeen to study silver-smithing at Harrow School of Art. After only staying for one term, believing she could not make a living in the arts, she decided instead to attend school to become a teacher. For the first few years of her career, she worked as a primary school teacher, supplementing her income by making jewelry, which she sold at a shop on
In 1962 she met her husband, Derek Westwood, and married in a gown of her own creation. They had a son, Benjamin Westwood, just a year after their marriage. The marriage didn’t last long however and they divorced in 1965. Vivienne met Malcolm McLaren in 1965 and they welcomed a son in 1967, Joseph Corré.
In 1971 Vivienne began designing clothes and opened her first London shop, Let It Rock, with her lover and business partner, Malcolm McLaren. The shop sold records, secondhand vintage clothing, and designs created by Vivienne and Malcolm. Their custom t-shirts, bondage-inspired pants, and biker-chic clothing was a provocative twist in the otherwise conservative London world of fashion. Over the years the name of their shop changed names as they refined their style: Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die (leather, zippers, and rivets); Sex (‘rubberwear for the office’); and finally Seditionaries (DIY fetishism to accentuate the rising popularity of the Sex Pistols, for whom Malcolm was manager). Vivienne viewed Punk Rock as ‘a heroic attempt to confront the older generation’. Finally, in the early 1980s as Punk Rock became more mainstream, the shop once again changed names and became World’s End, a name still used today.
Their first collection launched with a catwalk show in 1981. Known as Pirates, it borrowed from historical dress with references to Native Americans and other ethnic cuts. It was followed by: Buffalo Girls (1983, Peruvian women, underwear as outerwear); Punkature (desert landscape, recycled junk); Witches (magical symbols, hip hop styling); and Hypnos (active, Greek-inspired).
In 1985, Vivienne and Malcolm dissolved their partnership and she struck out on her own, introducing the world to the Mini-Crini line. Tailored and refined, it was a big departure from her previous lines and brought two contrasting ideals home—the limitations of women due to Victorian fashion restrictions, and the freedom created by the miniskirt. Vivienne returned to the roots of British fashion including tweeds tartans, corsets, bustles and crinolines, and referencing artwork by famous British artists. In 1987 Vivienne designed the Statue of Liberty corset as part of her Fall collection, Harris Tweed. It is the first corset to be introduced into outerwear.
Vivienne has consistently used her brand as a medium for political expression, and is well known for her publicity stunts. In April of 1989 she impersonated Margaret Thatcher on the cover of Tatler wearing a suit the Prime Minister had ordered but not yet received. In 1992, Vivienne famously picked up her OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace wearing no underwear (a fact which was discovered during a photography session in the gardens). In January 2003, her male models sported fake breasts on the catwalk. In 2012 she triggered controversy when she created aT-shirt in support of Julian Assange, a longtime friend. And in September of 2015 she drove a tank to Prime Minister David Cameron’s house in anti-fracking protest.
Vivienne’ son Joe Corre (by Malcolm McLaren), is the founder of Agent Provocateur, while her other son, Ben (by Derek Westwood), is an erotic photographer. Westwood is married to her former fashion student and assistant, Andreas Kronthaler.
Boyes, M. (2008). Vivienne Westwood. [Online]. Available: http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/vivienne-westwood-biography
Frankel, S. (2012). Vivienne Westwood: ‘You have a more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes’. [Online]. Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/vivienne-westwood-you-have-a-more-interesting-life-if-you-wear-impressive-clothes-8157187.html
Victoria and Albert Museum. Vivienne Westwood chronology. [Online]. Available: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/v/vivienne-westwood-chronology/
Westwood, V. History [Online]. Available: http://www.viviennewestwood.com/en-gb/history
Wikipedia. Vivienne Westwood. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivienne_Westwood