More than a Fashionista: Honoring the Life of Vivienne Westwood

Mia Shields, Design Editor

Vivienne Westwood changed the fashion game until her death on Dec. 29, 2022. She was born to a blue-collar family in Glossop, Derbyshire. At eight years old, she briefly attended the Harrow School of art in London, brewing the beginning of a long, unconventional and impressive career. 

A passionate artist, Westwood tapped into traditional English tailoring, art history and cultures. She began to sell fashion inspired by the Teddy boy look of the 1950s when she was eventually named the godmother of punk. 

“…She is like the punk style as we know it, that is how she got popular. She was the pioneer of the style,” Miami Palmetto Senior High sophomore and fashion enthusiast Oscar Gurdian said. 

Once she began designing collections under her own name, Westwood opened up shops in London and across the globe. Westwood’s punk-couture style eventually appeared on runways and on the red carpet, reaching fashion mainstream.

“I like the corsets, the Renaissance type of stuff she makes are really pretty, and her watches, which are a little bit less known, but I absolutely love it,” Gurdian said.

It is no surprise that corsets and platform shoes became a signature of hers, as well as a combination of the Victorian crinoline and a miniskirt that she referred to as a ‘mini-crinis.’

“…On one hand you have more timeless designs. Like with the necklaces. But on the other hand, you have these super maximalist eccentric punk rock styles…and she mixes old stuff with the new…,” Gurdian said. 

The British Fashion Council awarded Westwood designer of the year in 1990 and 1991. However, this was only one of many awards she received for her work. Queen Elizabeth II herself gave Westwood the Order of the British Empire. In classic Westwood fashion, she made an unconventional statement by wearing no underwear to the ceremony, choosing to make a bold statement in every circumstance.

“They actually would never give her awards because the other designers were like much more tame and ‘normal,’ she was just seen as so different because of her punk style they would refuse her awards. Now super maximalist and colorful is in, and that is the whole thing she was trying to push forward,” Gurdian said. 

Apart from being a fun and diverse fashion icon, she used her platform as a way to advocate for social and environmental issues. For the last 20 years, Westwood has supported numerous campaigns and charities, as well as launched her own movement called “Climate Revolution.” 

“If you look at her website, she has a whole tab dedicated to it and her little slogan ‘buy less, to make it last,’ which is even engraved on her watches…,” Gurdian said. 

Westwood wrote a Manifesto in 2008 called “Active Resistance to Propaganda” which addresses culture as the ability to save the planet for future generations. She designed and sold a set of playing cards with graphics, depicting a culture-led economy as the way to save the world. 

In 2013, Westwood started her “save the arctic” campaign, where she addressed the drilling and industrial fishing businesses harming the arctic’s ecosystem. The exhibition included 60 muted color pictures of a variety of celebrities shot over an 18-month-long period by photographer Andy Gotts. 

Moreover, Westwood supported efforts to protect rainforests and thwart climate change in the three tropical biomes. In 2013, Westwood traveled with The Times Magazine to visit a rainforest project she and her partner, Andreas, had funded in the Peruvian Amazon, living with a local tribe for a week. 

“…You have to really take a step back and realize how big it is that somebody who literally tells people to buy less, she puts the environment and her activism above everything else, she was always going to protest and spreading her beliefs until she died,” Gurdian said. 

Westwood broke barriers between couture and punk, while simultaneously sending messages through her work about topics she truly cared about. Westwood led 81 years of an adventurous life, making her mark in the world of fashion and advocacy.