Vivienne Westwood

Born: Glossop, England 1941
Died: London, England, 2022

Copyrights: Courtesy of Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood, born Vivienne Isabel Swire, moved to Harrow, London, at the age of 17 with her family. Her early aspirations were far from the world of fashion, as she initially trained as a figure skater. However, when her dreams of making the US Olympic team fell short, she embarked on a different path—the fashion industry.

Westwood’s journey into fashion began when she landed a job as a senior fashion editor at Vogue, where she would spend sixteen formative years. Her time at Vogue, though influential, came to an end in 1985 when she was not promoted to the position of editor-in-chief. She then took on the role of design director at Ralph Lauren.

After a two-year stint at Ralph Lauren, Westwood decided to chart her own course. In 1990, with financial support from her father, she opened a luxury salon in New York’s Carlyle Hotel. Her vision was clear: to design and sell wedding dresses that upheld the tradition of Parisian couture. Initially, the salon featured couture gowns from renowned designers such as Guy Laroche, Christian Dior, and Carolina Herrera. However, as Westwood honed her skills, she began creating her own collections.

In a notable turn of events, Westwood was entrusted with designing figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s costume for the 1994 Olympics, a design that garnered international attention.

Westwood expanded her fashion empire by launching a ready-to-wear collection in 2000, which achieved immediate success. Five years later, she received the prestigious ‘Womenswear Designer of the Year’ award from The Council of Fashion Designers of America.

In 2001, Westwood ventured into the world of fragrance and released a wedding guide. Her business continued to flourish, leading to a collaboration with the department store Kohl’s in 2006, where she launched a diffusion line exclusively for the chain named ‘Very Vera.’

Vivienne Westwood has become synonymous with fashion-forward brides worldwide. Her label has had the honor of dressing numerous celebrities, including Ivana Trump, Chelsea Clinton, Victoria Beckham, Nancy Kerrigan, and Kate Hudson, making it the top choice for high-profile brides.

What defines Westwood’s creations is superb craftsmanship, luxurious fabrics, and impeccable tailoring. Her designs effortlessly blend femininity and modernity, all while retaining a touch of traditionalism.

Beyond her contributions to the fashion world, Vivienne Westwood has always been a passionate advocate for political causes. Her anti-establishment stance and outspoken opinions have garnered attention throughout her career. Notably, in 1989, Westwood graced the cover of Tatler magazine dressed as then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The suit she wore had been ordered for Thatcher but had not yet been received, resulting in a cover that boldly declared, ‘This woman was once punk.’

In 2005, Westwood collaborated with the civil rights group Liberty, designing exclusive t-shirts and babywear featuring the slogan ‘I AM NOT A TERRORIST, please don’t arrest me.’ Her commitment to political activism led her to transfer her longstanding support from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party in 2007, citing concerns about civil liberties and human rights on national television.

In 2007, King’s College London approached Vivienne Westwood to design academic gowns for the college, marking a fusion of tradition and modernity that symbolises a connection between the past, present, and future.

Throughout her career, Westwood’s influence extended beyond the fashion realm. She collaborated with Richard Branson to design sustainable uniforms for the Virgin Atlantic crew, incorporating recycled polyester to reduce environmental impact.

In 2012, her work was celebrated with a major retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, showcasing her enduring impact on the world of fashion.

Despite her immense success and achievements, Vivienne Westwood remained committed to environmental and sustainability concerns. In a bid to address these issues, her company decided to halt further expansion.

Vivienne Westwood’s legacy lives on through her influential designs, her unwavering activism, and her fearless pursuit of innovation in fashion and beyond. Her passing on December 29, 2022, marked the end of an era, but her impact on the world of fashion and her dedication to making a difference continue to inspire generations. A memorial service held at Southwark Cathedral in London on February 16, 2023, paid tribute to her remarkable life and contributions to fashion, creativity, and activism.

Vivienne Westwood Biography

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Written by Saxony Dudbridge

Saxony Dudbridge was one of the first contributors to the Catwalk Yourself project, Saxony studies International Fashion Marketing and she is responsible for our great History and Designers Biographies sections.

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