Vivienne Westwood, British Fashion Designer and Queen of Punk, Dies at 81

British fashion designer and Queen of Punk, Vivienne Westwood passed away at 81.

The brand officially announced on its Instagram that Vivienne Westwood passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family, at her home in London on Thursday. “Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book and changing the world for the better. She led an amazing life. Her innovation and impact over the last 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future,” continued the post.

Andreas Kronthaler, Vivienne’s husband and creative partner, also released a statement and said, “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart. We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you darling.”

The magnificent Punk culture and social impact created by Vivienne Westwood

Known as the “Punk Queen”, Vivienne Westwood reigned in the fashion world as a punk fashion icon. The cultural influence she has created over the past 60 years is immense.

Traced back her career to the 1970s when she started the shop “Worlds End” at 430 King’s Road in London with her then-partner Malcolm McLaren of the band “Sex Pistols”. They were selling everything from bondage gear to shock-the-establishment slogans T-shirts, and the store became a central spot for the city’s emerging punk scene among young people.

Malcolm McLaren with Vivienne Westwood outside Bow Street Magistrate Court in London. Credit: Bill Kennedy/Mirrorpix/Getty Images.
Vivienne Westwood speaks to Sid Vicious at a Sex Pistols gig in the U.K. Credit: Ian Dickson/Redferns via Getty Images, FILE.

Musician Viv Albertine described in her memoir, “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.”, about the two of them at that time: “Vivienne and Malcolm use clothes to shock, irritate and provoke a reaction but also to inspire change. Mohair jumpers, knitted on big needles, so loosely that you can see all the way through them, T-shirts slashed and written on by hand, seams and labels on the outside, showing the construction of the piece; these attitudes are reflected in the music we make.”

The edgy style they created in this way became a major movement, especially among young people, and punk fashion and music were strongly linked with each other. Over the years, the legendary ‘Worlds End’ shop has changed names to ‘Let it Rock’, ‘Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die’, ‘Sex’, ‘Seditionaries’, and the store is still there today at 430 King’s Road as a sacred place for punk style.

Westwood and store staff. Credit:DAVID DAGLEY/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK.

In 1981, at the age of 40, Westwood made her runway debut with McLaren in a collection called Pirates. At the time, the avant-garde look inspired by pirates was a big hit with the audience. Since then, Westwood has developed its own avant-garde worldview one after another. She established her career as a designer by presenting the iconic “Love Jacket”, which has a collar that looks like a heart, and the “Harris Tweed” collection, which is a punk style of traditional British tweed.

In 1992, Westwood met and married Andreas Kronthaler, an Austrian design student who was 25 years her junior. They worked together as co-designers until Kronthaler took over her ready-to-wear line in 2016. Kronthaler is currently in charge of the creative direction of “Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood”, and has supported Westwood for many years both professionally and privately.

Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler at Paris Fashion Week in 2013. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.

In recognition of Westwood’s contributions to fashion, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2006, after having previously received an Order of the British Empire medal in 1992.

Westwood became a Dame of the British Empire in 2006. Credit: PRESS ASSOCIATION.

She was also a passionate activist on various social issues. In 2015, she parked a white tank at then-British Prime Minister David Cameron’s constituency home to protest against hydraulic fracking. Then in 2019,  she led a British environmentalist group to lead a protest calling for energy companies to be held accountable for the environmental destruction of the Papuan rainforest during London Fashion Week. She has also advocated for individual liberty, the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the fight against climate change, supported AIDS research, and animal rights group PETA and the poverty-fighting charity OXFAM.

Westwood drove a white tank up to then prime minister David Cameron’s constituency home in a protest against fracking. Credit: LEON NEAL

On Thursday night, words of condolence began pouring in from around the world for Vivienne Westwood.

Fashion Model Bella Hadid posted a picture of herself with Westwood on her Instagram, writing, “From the first day I met you to the last day I saw you, you made me smile , listen, learn and love more than the day before. I will forever be grateful to have been in your orbit , because to me and most , in fashion & in humanity, you, Vivienne, were the sun.” British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful mourned her death, describing her as a true icon of British fashion and an irreplaceable force in the industry. 

Singer Boy George also tweeted, “R.I.P to the great and inspiring Vivienne Westwood who lead us through punk and beyond.” “Laughed at by the fashion industry but without question she is the undisputed Queen of British fashion. I love you! Oh bondage up yours!” He added.

In front of Vivienne Westwood’s shop in New York, many people laid flowers for Westwood.

Oui Speak Fashion’s editorial department would like to offer our deepest condolences.

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