Vivienne Westwood: Pioneering fashion designer dies aged 81

Vivienne Westwood on the Milan Catwalk in 2010

British fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood has died aged 81.

In a statement on Twitter, her fashion house said she died “peacefully and surrounded” by her family in Clapham, south London.

Westwood made her name with her controversial punk and new wave styles in the 1970s and went on to dress some of the biggest names in fashion.

Her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler said: “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart.

“We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with.”

Westwood came to prominence with her androgynous designs, slogan T-shirts and irreverent attitude towards the establishment.

She was also known as a staunch activist and brought causes she cared about, like climate change, to the catwalk.

The designer was made a Dame for services to fashion in 2006.

Derbyshire-born Westwood worked as a primary school teacher, before setting up clothing shop Let It Rock on King’s Road in Chelsea with her then partner Malcolm McLaren in the early 1970s.

The business was later renamed Sex and in late 1975, McLaren began managing a punk rock band made up of shop regulars – the Sex Pistols. They shot to fame wearing Westwood and McLaren’s designs.

Tributes have started to pour in from the world of fashion, politics and showbusiness.

Fashion designer and Spice Girl Victoria Beckham paid tribute to Westwood, saying: “I’m so sad to learn of the passing of legendary designer and activist Dame Vivienne Westwood.

“My thoughts are with her family at this incredibly sad time.”

American designer Marc Jacobs said on Instagram: “You did it first. Always. Incredible style with brilliant and meaningful substance…

“You never failed to surprise and to shock. I am grateful for the moments I got to share with you and Andreas.”

Singer Boy George, who first met Westwood in the early 1980s, called her “great and inspiring” and “without question she is the undisputed Queen of British fashion”.

Singer Billy Idol, who found fame on the London punk music scene, tweeted: “RIP it will take me a bit to take this in…”.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses some of her works, described Westwood as a “true revolutionary and rebellious force in fashion”.

Vivienne Westwood
The designer was made a Dame for services to fashion in 2006.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan wrote on Twitter: “A sad day, Vivienne Westwood was and will remain a towering figure in British fashion.

“Her punk style rewrote the rule book in the 1970s and was widely admired for how she stayed true to her own values throughout her life.”

Co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas said: “Such a legend, a huge inspiration, brilliantly creative and always a committed activist for people and planet – my thoughts are with her family and friends – RIP.”

In 1981, Westwood held her first proper fashion show remembered as the Pirate Collection, and she continued to use British and French history to inspired her.

She married Kronthaler, a former student of hers, 25 years her junior in 1992. He became creative director of her company and increasingly was responsible for design work in later years.

By the 2000s, Westwood was designing wedding dresses for stars like model Dita Von Teese who dressed in her purple gown to marry singer Marilyn Manson, and Princess Eugenie who wore three Westwood designs for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine.

Her designs also featured in the 2008 film version of Sex And The City.

Memorable runway moments include her nine-inch platform shoes, which famously tripped up model Naomi Campbell.

As well as climate change, Westwood became a vocal supporter for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act. In July 2020, she dressed in canary yellow in a giant bird cage warning over an Assange “stitch up”.

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