Obituary for punk icon Vivienne Westwood: Farewell to the Queen of Punk

Obituary for punk icon Vivienne Westwood: Farewell to the Queen of Punk

She knew a lot about provocation and admired tailoring. Designer and fashion icon Vivienne Westwood has died.

Vivienne Westwood laughs and has dyed her hair red.

Good sense for provocation and business: Vivienne Westwood at the Fashion Week in Paris 2005 Photo: Jacky Naegelen / Reuters

Who is sticking their bare buttocks at the Queen of England? Vivienne Westwood, of course, who, before accepting her Order of the British Empire, demonstrated to the world press in a wide swinging skirt that not only Scots can do without underwear. It is the quintessence of Westwood: playing with the media and the establishment, breaking with conventions, always within the framework of what can be marketed and contributes to the relevance of one’s own brand.

Westwood was agent provocateur par excellence; she once drove a tank towards the home of former British Prime Minister David Cameron – now she has passed away at the age of 81. There was so much vitality and belligerence in the fashion icon that one could have thought it would last for a hundred or more years on earth. After all, Westwood, born in 1941, went from being the daughter of a weaver and a shoemaker to what is probably the most important contemporary designer.

She only uses fashion as an excuse to talk about what moves her, politically and culturally. That’s what Westwood said in an interview. The dominant theme of the last decade of her life was environmental protection and climate change and the role that fashion and consumers play in this. Designer fashion is, by definition, the opposite of fast fashion – expensive and a luxury product, it is the subject of the few, not the masses.

In this respect, she could afford to call on consumers to consume less and more sustainably, to repair and repurpose instead of throwing away. Nevertheless, the question of the commercialization of the Westwood brand remained an issue that often led to disputes. Also with her husband Andreas Kronthaler, who worked alongside her as a designer.

quintessence of provocation

Westwood’s oeuvre is a nod to the great role models, but at the same time a cheeky parody. Imitation is the sincerest form of flatterysay the English, but with Westwood the element of caricature is added: for example when the breasts of her models fall out of breast lifts and corsets and are thus reminiscent of a coquettish fashion of the 17th century. Or when she puts pads on her clothes instead of hiding them under the construction of the skirt.

In her legendary SEX shop – the letters, made of pink foam rubber, emblazoned on the front of the shop – Westwood and her congenial were selling Partners Malcolm McLaren between 1974 and 1976, in addition to Westwood’s self-tailored outfits, also fetish brands. Don’t be told what you want/ Don’t be told what you need. What Westwood and McLaren needed was the quintessence of provocation, of startling the bourgeois; at the same time there is a real flair for business behind it.

About the celebration of iconic punk looks that Westwood created in the ’70s, it should not be forgotten that her design life was dominated by a fascination with tailoring, particularly the construction of classic corsets, costumes and historical dresses. And she adored Christian Dior, whose clothes are still the epitome of tailoring and design today.

Believe it or not: Her fascination with the construction of clothing also came to light in the punk looks, literally. The shirts and pants show their seams, show their insides out; Safety pins become the decor.

Breasts and buttocks exposed

The pictures from that time are raw, Westwood’s models break with the conventions of being beautiful – at least if you mean by that courtesy. Breasts and buttocks are exposed, stockings and nipples are staged. It’s the 1970s in England, the country is going down the drain, the economy is in shambles, and at the same time the English people are indulging in a fascination with the royals, whose position remains untouched.

Since the early 1970s, the Westwoods and McLarens shop, under different names, had become the playground of the young punk scene. Then, in 1975, the Sex Pistols took the stage – or better: they are put on stage by McLaren.

God save the Queen / the fascist regime. This is still hard stuff today. From the mouth of a snotty fool like Johnny Rotten. In the video for the song, Rotten wears a shirt that’s oversized in the arms, looks like it’s made out of mesh, is semi-sheer, and has slightly puffed sleeves at the wrists. It’s not very masculine and a stark contrast to his tight-fitting leather trousers. It’s a unisex look, Westwood wore the same outfits back then; Punk promised to break down gender boundaries.

How strangely ironic that the Queen of Punk and the real Queen are different in the same year, only a few months apart. We love our queen. God saves.

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