Vivienne Westwood

(b. 1941)

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1941– )

British fashion designer known for her punk fashions of the 1970s and her subsequent avant-garde collections.

Born in Glossop, Derbyshire, she worked as a primary-school teacher for a number of years before turning to fashion with designs for jewellery, which she sold in a London street market. In 1971, by which time her three-year marriage to Derek Westwood had ended, Westwood began designing clothes with the encouragment of her lover, the entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren, who became manager of the punk group the Sex Pistols. The same year Westwood and McLaren opened Let It Rock, a shop in Chelsea selling 1950s-style clothes. By 1974 the shop had been renamed Sex and sold predominantly leather and rubber clothes inspired by bondage and body fetishes. Soon Westwood began to draw on the anarchic style of punk – ripped fabrics, safety pins, garish colours, and unusual combinations of fabrics. She brought deliberate design and commercial form to what had been an improvised street style expressing anti-establishment feelings. Her Chelsea shop changed its name to Seditionaries in 1977 and to World's End in the 1980s.

Westwood's collections of the early 1980s – Savage (1981), Pirate and Buffalo (1982), Punkature (1982), Witches (1983), and Hypnos (1983) – helped shape the ‘New Romantics’ look. In 1991 Westwood began offering a made-to-order bridal service, which included a dress in her own tartan (called MacAndreas), which is now displayed alongside the collection of traditional tartans in the Lochcarron Museum in Scotland. Her Café Society collection (1994), inspired by the Parisian fashions of the late 1890s and early 1900s, included dresses with bustles. As well as using traditional fabrics in innovative designs, Westwood's later work also features ‘innerwear (i.e. underclothes) as outerwear’. Her most recent collection, entitled Vive La Bagatelle, was shown in London in 1997.

While some have criticized Westwood's designs as outrageous, others have commended her clever combination of contemporary and historical styles and her awareness of social trends. She received the British fashion industry's Designer of the Year Award in 1990 and 1991, the first person to win it two years running. From 1989 to 1991 she was professor of fashion at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna and in 1993 she became professor of fashion at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. She was made a fellow of the Royal College of Art, London, in 1992.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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