Vivienne Westwood: School Teacher to Punk Fashion Icon 

You may know Vivienne Westwood’s famous logo – in the form of a small orb pearl choker necklace, the “Mini Bas Relief Choker,” that Generation Z has adopted since going viral on the social media app, Tik Tok. The necklace incorporates the British royal emblem and outerspace symbolism which portray the importance of the past while hinting at the future.  

Dame Vivienne Swire was born on April 8, 1941 in Derbyshire, England. Her father had been a cobbler while her mother would work at the local cotton mill to provide for the family. When she was 17, she and her family would move to Harrow, where she would enroll in the Harrow School of Art, now the University of West Winchester, a very prestigious school. However, she would soon drop out and start studying to become a schoolteacher. At this time, she was designing jewelry and selling it locally to earn extra money.  

In 1962, Swire married Derek Westwood, giving her the iconic name. They would have one son together, but by 1965 were divorced.  

No longer a schoolteacher, Westwood would soon meet Malcolm McLaren, future manager of the Sex Pistols. They moved into an apartment and together would start, “Let it Rock”, a thrift store that sold 1950’s vintage clothing along with Westwood’s beginning designs. The name of their boutique changed many times but proved to be an important fashion center for the punk movement. She once stated that she had latched onto McLauren as someone who would open doors for her.  

After helping the Sex Pistols carve their name by designing and dressing the band, 5 years later she branched off to become an independent designer. Her first collection “Pirate” would lead into a new direction of style that included deceptions of highwaymen in unique colors.  

Westwood would begin to make incendiary statements with her collections, she created disruptive clothing for the point of disruption. Some of her styles included subversive underwear, BDSM, razor blades, bondage, dog collars with spikes, and ostentatious hair and makeup. To criticize social norms and provoke political change, some of her lines included slogans like, “AM NOT A TERRORIST, please don’t arrest me.” She strongly defended that “Capitalism is a crime”, and believed that it is the root cause of war, climate change, and corruption. 

Her empire was built on 4 principles: climate change, stop war, defend human rights, and protest capitalism. Throughout her fame she has promoted the United Kingdom’s environmentally focused Green Party. She invited like-minded activists to perform during her runways. She also launched a climate change revolution and publicly mocked the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.  

An English designer by the name of Jasper Cervan once said, “Vivienne does and others follow.” She was named British designer of the year twice and was awarded OBE (the most excellent order of the British Empire) in 1992.  Released in June 2018 in the United States, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist would follow her story from schoolteacher to fashion icon. Her commentary for the documentary was that, “it didn’t cover her environmental activism enough.”

Westwood died on Dec. 29 of 2022 in London. Considered one of the greatest architects of British style, her legacy would live on within The Vivienne Foundation. This foundation is a non-for-profit company that was launched by her sons and granddaughter to protest the vision, design, and activism that was so heavily embedded in Westwoods’ life work. The goal of this foundation is to raise awareness and create change, while also never forgetting Westwoods’ legacy. 

The impact that Westwood had on the fashion industry and activism was like no other. She recognized the problems in this world and used her art to portray them. She called society out for its wrongdoings and started a revolution with her creations. Westwood gave people a sense of belonging to those who were constantly looked down upon; she will be missed.