Vivienne Westwood: An Analysis of Punk’s Godmother

by pjdziminska

Kate Moss by Ellen Von Unwerth
http://www.tumblr.com/

Introduction

Since the early 1970’s Vivienne Westwood (born Vivienne Isabel Swire on 8 April 1941 in the village of Tintwistle, Derbyshire) creates things that cannot be seen only in fashion terms. Her both eclectic and consistent style is an invitation to the weird and wonderful world of her absolute imagination. Nevertheless, she is using fashion not only as a satisfying way of artistic expression, but also social and political medium. The key to understanding this dedication might be her personal background: “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world” – says Vivienne recalling her beginnings.1

Vivienne Westwood, 1977

Vivienne Westwood, 1977
http://www.tumblr.com/

Historical References

The name of Vivienne Westwood usually makes one think about outstandingly rebellious creations. However, she had some rather conservative inspirations such as Victorian era, highly visible with her ‘New Romantic’ style promoted by many artists and celebrities in the 1980’s. Her work contains lots of references to the history of art, including splendorous Baroque paintings.2

This punk lady is also famous for using traditional British elements: Union Jack, Scottish tartans and images of monarchs. An example of this might be the iconic ‘God Save The Queen’ shirt (designed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, and Jamie Reid) picturing Elizabeth II with a safety pin.3 Despite the controversies Queen herself doesn’t seem too offended – the designer had been honoured with the Order of the British Empire in 1992 and made Dame Vivienne Westwood in 2006.4

Pirate outfit, 1981-82 http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Pirate outfit, 1981-82
http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Vivienne Westwood, backstage AW 2011 http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk

Vivienne Westwood, backstage AW 2011
http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk

Politics & Society

The economical crisis of the 1970’s had triggered Punk movement, which inspired Westwood’s way to the top. She had transferred its controversial image into the world of fashion, capturing the atmosphere of riot and danger. Her main interest was breaking taboos (usage of Nazi symbols as well as sexual references) and playing with gender stereotypes – both denying and embracing femininity.5 Nowadays her ideology focuses on limiting consumption in the industry. The designer’s motto is ‘Buy less. Choose well. Make it last‘.6 A key element is audibility rather than mass production. Vivienne tries to draw attention to various ecological and social issues through her work. There is a visible link between her fashion designs and politics. In 2005 she had launched a line of T-shirts saying ‘I am not a terrorist. Please don’t arrest me’ to oppose the government’s proposal to allow terrorist suspects to be detained for up to three months without being charged.7

Bondage suit, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, 1976 http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Bondage suit, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, 1976
http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Vivienne Westwood Red Label SS14 http://www.c-heads.com/

Vivienne Westwood Red Label SS14
http://www.c-heads.com/

re-useable bottle by Vivienne Westwood and SIGG, 2011 http://www.theglassmagazine.com/

re-useable bottle by Vivienne Westwood and SIGG, 2011
http://www.theglassmagazine.com/

Culture

Vivienne had been inspired as well as been inspiration to many musicians and artists, including English singer-songwriter and alternative style icon Siouxsie Sioux. The arists shared a dark vision of beauty, which most likely inspired the Goth subculture in the 70’s. Sioxsie had been often seen performing in one of Westwood’s infamous T-shirts.8

Before the punk era Vivienne claims to draw inspiration from ‘bikers, fetishists and prostitutes’. When her business and life partner McLaren became manager of Sex Pistols, Vivienne had a chance to make her name and define the whole shocking movement.9

Her contemporary creations remind me of conceptual and performing arts. The designer sill uses traditional imaginary to create a new and unique look, emphasising the ‘theatrical’ side of her creations. Her inspiration varies from 18th century paintings to Greek mythology.10

Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End
King’s Road, London
http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/‎

Silk evening dress by Vivienne Westwood, from her 'Anglophilia' collection, A/W 2003 http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Silk evening dress by Vivienne Westwood, from her ‘Anglophilia’ collection, A/W 2003
http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Summary

One could say that Vivienne Westwood is hypocritical. Creating haute couture and asking people to stop consumtion might not be seen as honest or proper. However, she is in favour with contrast and controversy – just to think that what made her famous was turning seemingly underground and antisocial fashion into mainstream. Vivienne’s vivid personality, stunning taste and unquestionable talent make her an unique addition to contemporary fashion as well as art.

Vivienne Westwood‘s 1987/8 Harris Tweed collection
http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/‎

1, 5  Vivienne Westwood: An Unfashionable Life by Jane Mulvagh ISBN-10: 0007177062

2 Vivienne Westwood and the V&A (V&A) / http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/v/vivienne-westwood-and-the-v-and-a/

3 Vivienne Westwood designs (V&A) / http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/v/vivienne-westwood-designs/, Fashion in Motion: Vivienne Westwood (Victoria and Albert Museum) / http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/fashion-in-motion-vivienne-westwood/

4 Vivienne Westwood Biography & Fashion Facts (Vogue.com UK) / http://www.vogue.co.uk/spy/biographies/vivienne-westwood-biography, Vivienne Westwood’s Blog / http://climaterevolution.co.uk/

6 Vivienne Westwood – official webstite / http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/

7 The power of T-shirt slogans by Anna Browning (BBC News) / http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4287446.stm

8, 9 Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain ISBN-10: 0802142648

10 Vivienne Westwood chronology (V&A) / http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/v/vivienne-westwood-chronology/, Biography: Dame Vivienne Westwood (BBC) / http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/livingicons/bio10.shtml

Pair of platform shoes, 1993 http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Pair of platform shoes, 1993
http://www.vam.ac.uk/

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