Female impresario: Vivienne Westwood

Angus Kirk enters the career of fashion boss Dame Vivienne Isabel Westwood

20th March 2017

Punk Priestess, activist and general badass Dame Vivienne Westwood has truly retired in style. Westwood modelled in her latest runway show last month, having handed over creative control of her label to husband Andreas Kronthaler, an Austrian fashion designer.

Born in a small village in Cheshire, after her family moved to London she studied silver smithing at Harrow School of Art, deciding to leave after just one term because, in her own words, “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world”. After working in a factory and training to be a teacher, she worked in a primary school while making jewellery in her spare time, which she sold on a market stall at Portobello Road.

It wasn’t until she met Malcolm McLaren that she discovered design. The pair were more interested in the rebellious style of the 1950s than the hippie movement which was en vogue in the late 60s. Having started making Teddy Boy clothes for McLaren, the duo opened Let it Rock in 1971, which is where Westwood’s label began. Throughout the ‘70s the pair sold Westwood’s ground-breaking designs, including what McLaren dubbed “the ultimate punk-rock t-shirt”’, which was emblazoned with a swastika and an inverted crucifix under the word ‘destroy’, and clothes created using 17th and 18th century cutting techniques, like the classic radically cut tartan trousers worn by John Lydon of the Sex Pistols.

“She studied silver smithing at Harrow School of Art, deciding to leave after just one term because, in her own words, “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world”

Fast forward through the decades and Westwood has drawn inspiration from an eclectic range of sources; from Native American women to Hypnos (the Greek God of sleep) and even Clint Eastwood, Westwood has never been one to hold back; her many outrageous stunts have garnered almost as much attention as her revolutionary designs over the years. From accepting her OBE from Her Majesty in no knickers to making a radical speech entitled ‘End Capitalism’ to a bunch of shocked kids receiving their Gold Duke of Edingburgh Award to my personal favourite, riding a tank to David Cameron’s front door in a fracking protest.

Almost as surprising as this is of course her fashion design retirement and subsequent catwalk debut. Westwood stole the show while modelling two looks from the latest collection in front of a star-studded audience, including Rita Ora and Pamela Anderson, who sat front row. Her first outfit was a large pink and purple pinstriped bomber jacket with a matching asymmetrical hem skirt, perhaps a nod to the bouffant silhouettes used in her ‘mini-crini’ of the mid-80s. Later, her black silk ensemble embroidered with gold turned heads once again. Both outfits were teamed with a pair of purple heels with green wool socks and yellow hiking laces. She received a standing ovation from the crowd, stealing the show from the other models despite the statement crisp packet jewellery and coffee cups adorning their hair. Given Westwood’s history of environmental campaigning, it’s highly probable that these are a nod to the throwaway society we capitalist consumers live in.

Now that she’s handed over the reins to her husband, Westwood will doubtless have plenty of spare time on her hands to use her extraordinary talents to branch into other creative fields – maybe a return to her silver smithing routes to make some high couture jewellery? Whatever it is she does next, I’ll be watching closely – watch this space.

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