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Vivienne Westwood, Fashion Designer And Punk Pioneer, Dies At 81

Westwood helped define the punk rock movement’s visual aesthetic.

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Vivienne Westwood - Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images for BoF VOICES
Vivienne Westwood - Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images for BoF VOICES

Dame Vivienne Westwood, the celebrated fashion designer who helped bring the British punk movement into the mainstream with her one-of-a-kind fashion eye, has died.

In a statement, it was said she died “peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London.” Westwood was 81 years old.

The cherished artist was born Vivienne Isabel Swire in Derbyshire, England on April 8, 1941. Her mother worked as a weaver at local cotton mills; her father came from a family of shoemakers and carried on that tradition. She began making clothes for herself as a teenager, which is where her passion for design began to flourish.

The defining moment in her early career came when she left her first husband and met Malcolm McLaren in 1965.
Together, they would go on to help define the 1970s punk scene in England and across the globe. McLaren managed the Sex Pistols and Westwood helped develop an unmistakable style for the punk movement from a shop on London’s famed King’s Road.

According to an interview with The Independent, Westwood reflected on the era by saying, “It changed the way people looked. I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way. I realized there was no subversion without ideas. It’s not enough to want to destroy everything.”

In recent years, Westwood had been keeping up with modern figures in music and fashion. In an interview with NME, she explained her love of Billie Eilish. “I’m going to be talking at Billie Eilish’s [upcoming six-day London climate event], which is really great. From what I know of her, I think she’s great,” she explained. “I just heard a bit of her voice and it sounds terrific. Oh and I was doing a photoshoot yesterday with Courtney Love. I’d never listened to her sing before but my husband [designer] Andreas [Kronthaler] said, ‘She’s really good that woman, really great’, so I had a listen too.”

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