Vivienne Westwood, the radical, influential – and often controversial – fashion designer and outspoken activist has passed away. She turned 81.

Westwood’s death announced on Friday by her fashion house that bears her name. The company said the British fashion icon died “peacefully and surrounded by her family” in south London.

Vivienne continued to do the things she loved until the last minute, designing, working on her art, writing her book and changing the world for the better. statement.

“She led a great life. Its innovation and impact over the past 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.”

Westwood began her fashion career in the 1970s, at the crossroads between the birth of punk and the waning days of the ‘Swinging London’ era. She was known worldwide for her extravagant fashion shows and for making the punk aesthetic mainstream.

“The ripped shirts, the safety pins, the provocative slogans,” said Andrew Bolton, curator of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

“She introduced postmodernism. It was so influential from the mid-1970s. The punk movement has never gone away – it’s become part of our fashion vocabulary.”

Westwood, who remained a trendsetter until her death – sometimes transcending the fashion industry – transformed punk into haute couture.

“She was always trying to reinvent fashion,” Bolton added. “Her work is provocative, cross-border. It is very much rooted in the English tradition of pastiche and irony and satire. She is very proud of her Englishness and yet she broadcasts it.”

Westwood was born in the Derbyshire village of Glossop on April 8, 1941, the Associated Press reported. She moved to London with her family in 1957, where she studied at an art school for a semester. Westwood was largely self-taught and had no fashion training of any kind.

In the 1960s, Westwood met Sex Pistols manager and one-time partner Malcolm McLaren. The pair “gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical that it broke with everything in the past,” Bolton said.

They opened a small business in Chelsea in 1971. The store, which was once called “SEX”, was fined in 1975 over allegations of “indecent exhibition”.

Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who once worked at Westwood and McLaren’s Chelsea store, described the late fashion designer as “a one-time, driven, determined, talented lady,” in a statement to the Associated Press.

During the punk movement, Westwood’s fashion line rose to prominence for its obvious shock value, which often featured nudity and provocative sexual themes. She received quite a bit of criticism for her pioneering styles. In particular, one of Westwood’s most notorious designs featured a swastika and an inverted caricature of a crucified Jesus Christ with the word “Destroy”.

Westwood later clarified in an autobiography co-written with Ian Kelly that the clothing design was intended as a political statement against the dangers of fascism. The iconoclastic designer specified that the design was a response to the Chilean leader by Augusto Pinochet cruel dictatorship.

Westwood told Time Magazine in 2009 that she had no regrets about the controversial piece.

“I don’t, because we just said to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values ​​or taboos, and you’re all fascists,'” Westwood said.

Westwood later became known for her fresh take on lavish dresses of the past. She was inspired by 18th century paintings.

However, later in her career, Westwood expressed her ambivalence towards the fashion industry.

“Fashion can be so boring,” she told The Associated Press at a 2010 fashion show. “I’m trying to find something else to do.”

And she did, eventually emerging as a fierce advocate for the environment and freedom of expression. She protested against WikiLeaks founder from Julian Assange extradition to the United States, posing in public in 2020 in an oversized birdcage to draw attention to the whistleblower’s case. Westwood also designed the dress that Assange’s wife, Stella Moris, wore during the the couple’s marriage in prison in London last March.

MI London
Vivienne Westwood surrounded by banners and wearing a Julian Assange mask of her own creation at a protest event outside The Home Office on November 5, 2019 in London, UK [Ollie Millington/Getty Images] (Getty Images)

Animal rights group PETA described Westwood as an “eco-warrior” and said the maverick designer was challenging the fashion world to “start a revolution for animals and the planet.”

Several fashion giants, celebrities and musicians took to social media to express their condolences after news of the 81-year-old’s death came out.

“Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place,” singer Chrissie Hynde of the English-American rock group The Pretenders wrote on Twitter. “I love you Viv.”

Westwood is survived by her second husband, Austrian designer Andreas Kronthaler, as well as her two sons, Ben Westwood, a fashion photographer, and Joe Corre, a businessman and activist.

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