Vivienne Westwood dead at 81: Teacher who made punk rock fashion

The Grand Dame who shook up the British fashion scene: How Vivienne Westwood trained as a primary school teacher…before bringing punk rock to the mainstream, dressing everyone from royals to the Sex Pistols – and meeting the Queen with no underwear on

  • The fashion designer died peacefully surrounded by her family in Clapham
  • Husband and creative partner said: ‘I will continue with Vivienne in my heart’
  • Pioneering designer made a name for herself on the fashion scene in the 1970s 
  • She gained notoriety with slogan t-shirts and irreverent attitude  establishment
  • Tributes have quickly flooded in from heartbroken fans on social media

Dame Vivienne Westwood was a rebel for life, whose mantra was ‘orthodoxy is the grave of intelligence’.

The daughter of a greengrocer and a cotton weaver claimed she could have made a pair of shoes as a five-year-old and went on to become one of the world’s most influential fashion designers having shaped punk culture in Britain. 

Dame Vivienne died peacefully in her sleep last night at the age of 81. 

The pioneering fashion designer made a name for herself on the fashion scene in the 1970s, with her androgynous designs, slogan t-shirts and irreverent attitude towards the establishment including meeting the Queen while going commando.

Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood outside Bow Street Magistrate Court in 1977, after he was bailed for fighting. They would launch a revolution from their Clapham flat 

Vivienne Westwood. Punk fashion designer at her boutique ‘Seditionaries: Clothes for Heroes’ 430 Kings Road in 1977

Vivienne Westwood talks with now King Charles in 2011

Vivienne Westwood speaks at an event at which a collection of punk memorabilia belonging to Joe Corre, her son with Malcolm McLaren, was burnt on a boat on the River Thames

Derbyshire-born Westwood trained as a primary school teacher after a loving childhood where her rebellious streak showed early when she burned her library card.

In 1962 she married Derek Westwood, a handsome Hoover factory worker and Mod who supported her as she designed her own jewellery and clothes, including her own wedding dress. 

They had a son, Benjamin, who became an erotic photographer, but divorced after three years of marriage.

Farewell to the Godmother of Punk: Fashion world mourns Dame Vivienne Westwood after she died peacefully at her London home aged 81 

She died peacefully surrounded by her family in Clapham, South London , her fashion house revealed yesterday.


Abandoning his job as a toolmaker, Derek opened a dancehall and had ambitions to be a pilot. 

But the marriage didn’t last. Vivienne was left with a baby and fled to her Aunt Ethel’s caravan in Prestatyn 

By that time she had met Malcolm McLaren at a house party in Harrow, and the couple would later marry having launched their own punk and fashion revolution from a shoebox flat in Balham.

They would be married for nine years until 1980 and have a son, Agent Provocateur founder and designer Joseph Corre. Vivienne’s family detested her second husband, but their creative partnership and boutique on the King’s Road would change their lives. 

The Sex Pistols wore the shop’s clothes to their first gig and Westwood’s first runway show was presented at Olympia in London in March 1981. 

The couple dressed many bands including the Pistols, before falling out with lead singer Johnny Rotten having both claimed to be responsible for the band’s famous song title Anarchy In The UK. 

Vivienne also believed that Rotten was not a true believer in punk, which she was. Malcolm McLaren would later claim the movement was a ‘con’ that he helped design.

Dame Vivienne was one of the most influential British fashion designers of the 20th century, cultivating the punk rock movement with her unapologetically political designs.

Climate change, pollution, as well as her support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, were all fodder for protest T-shirts or banners worn by models on the runway.

As the person who dressed the Sex Pistols, Dame Vivienne was synonymous with 1970s punk rock, a rebel spirit that stuck with her throughout her career.

‘Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, south London. The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better,’ her fashion house said on Twitter.

Signing the register with first husband Derek, Vivienne met the enterprising and handsome young man, Derek Westwood at a dance hall and they married when Vivienne was 21.

Jordan, and Simon Barker, aka Six, modelling bondage gear from the Seditionaries boutique on King’s Road, London in 1977

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood with her partner, music manager Malcolm McLaren, at her shop on the King’s Road in 1985

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood at Buckingham Palace, in London, where she received her OBE from Queen Elizabeth II. She is giving a twirl for the photographers, but beneath her tailored suit she wore no knickers

Dame Vivienne Westwood with her two sons, erotic photographer Ben Westwood and  Agent Provocateur founder and designer Joseph Corre

British Fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood poses for photographers after collecting her ensignia from the Prince of Wales during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in June 2006

Dame Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, her third husband, celebrate United Colors of Benetton’s new capsule collection designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac on March 31, 2022

One of the designer’s most notorious fashion reveals was while receiving her OBE at Buckingham Palace in 1992, when she turned for the cameras and sent her suit skirt flying. It quickly became evident she’d left her underwear at home.

Fashion world unites in grief for Dame Vivienne Westwood: Victoria Beckham and Marc Jacobs lead tributes 

Sad news: Celebrities flooded social media with tributes after the death of fashion desinger Dame Vivienne Westwood at the age of 81 on Thursday


Dame Vivienne also dressed up as then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher for a magazine cover in 1989 and drove a white tank near the country home of a later British leader, David Cameron, to protest against fracking.

‘The only reason I am in fashion is to destroy the word ‘conformity’,’ Dame Vivienne said in her 2014 biography. ‘Nothing is interesting to me unless it’s got that element.’

Together with the Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, Dame Vivienne defied the hippie trends of the time to sell rock’n’roll-inspired clothing. They moved on to torn outfits adorned with chains as well as latex and fetish pieces that they sold at their shop in London’s King’s Road variously called ‘Let It Rock’, ‘Sex’ and ‘Seditionaries’, among other names.

They used prints of swastikas, naked breasts and, perhaps most well-known of all, an image of the Queen with a safety pin through her lips. 

Favourite items included sleeveless black T-shirts, with zips, safety pins or bleached chicken bones. 

‘There was no punk before me and Malcolm,’ Dame Vivienne said in the biography. ‘And the other thing you should know about punk too: it was a total blast.’

Born Vivienne Isabel Swire on April 8, 1941, in the Midlands town of Glossop, Dame Vivienne grew up at a time of rationing during and after the Second World War. 

A recycling mentality pervaded her work, and she repeatedly told fashionistas to ‘choose well’ and ‘buy less’. From the late 1960s, she lived in a small flat in south London for some 30 years.

When she was a teenager, her parents, a greengrocer and a cotton weaver, moved the family to north London where she studied jewellery-making and silversmithing before re-training as a teacher.

While she taught at a primary school, she met her first husband, Derek Westwood, marrying him in a homemade dress. Their son Ben was born in 1963, and the couple divorced in 1966.

Dame Vivienne then met art student McLaren and they had a son, Joe Corre, co-founder of lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.

After the Sex Pistols split, the pair held their first catwalk show in 1981, presenting a ‘new romantic’ look. Dame Vivienne, by then in her forties, began to slowly forge her own path in fashion, eventually separating from McLaren in the early 1980s.

‘My clothes have a story. They have an identity. They have character and a purpose,’ Dame Vivienne said. ‘That’s why they become classics. Because they keep on telling a story. They are still telling it.’

Famed fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood (pictured left and right) died peacefully surrounded by family at her home in Clapham

Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood in 1981, after their marriage ended

Kate Moss and Vivienne Westwood attend Vivienne Westwood’s Private View of her new retrospective show at the V&A Museum on March 30, 2004

The Westwood brand flourished in the 1990s, with fashionistas flocking to her runway shows in Paris, and stores opening around the world selling her lines. 

She met her second husband, Andreas Kronthaler, teaching fashion in Vienna. They married in 1993 and he became her creative partner.

Dame Vivienne used her public profile to champion issues including nuclear disarmament and to protest against anti-terrorism laws and government spending policies that hit the poor. ‘I’ve always had a political agenda,’ she said in 2018. ‘I’ve used fashion to challenge the status quo.’

Some of her best-known creations include the Mini Crini, bustle-skirts, bondage trousers and 12-inch platform shoes, the type which famously tripped up supermodel Naomi Campbell.

She developed the idea of underwear as outerwear, and Madonna’s legendary conical bra worn on her Blonde Ambition tour, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, would probably never have happened if not for Westwood.

She also transformed the corset from a symbol of female repression to one of power and sexual freedom.

After becoming a primary school teacher, she quit her job to become a seamstress of punk fashion and opened her shop on Chelsea’s Kings Road with her then partner McLaren.

The Pretenders’ frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, who worked at Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s boutique in punk’s early days, sent her love to her departed friend.

‘Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place. Love you Viv,’ Hynde tweeted.

Model Bella Hadid described the designer as the most ‘epic human being that has walked this earth… my inspiration and idol in all things’.

In an Instagram post with photos of the pair together, Hadid wrote: ‘Dearest Vivienne, Queen of punk, 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.

‘To the coolest, most fun, incredible , humble, creative , badass, intelligent, f****** epic human being that has walked this earth… my inspiration and idol in all things … rest in love and Rest In Peace… I will miss you.’

In an earlier statement, Dame Vivienne’s husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler 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 statement from her representatives added: ‘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.’

It also said that The Vivienne Foundation, a not-for-profit company founded by Dame Vivienne, her sons and grand-daughter in late 2022, will launch next year to ‘honour, protect and continue the legacy of Vivienne’s life, design and activism’.

Dame Vivienne, who was born in Cheshire in 1941, is largely accepted as being responsible for bringing punk and new wave fashion into the mainstream with her eccentric creations.

Her designs were regularly worn by high-profile individuals including Dita Von Teese who wore a purple Westwood wedding gown to marry Marilyn Manson, and Princess Eugenie who wore three Westwood designs for various elements of the wedding of William and Kate Middleton.

Dame Vivienne’s designs also featured in the 2008 film adaptation of Sex And The City, starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw.

In addition to her work as a designer, Dame Vivienne was vocal in her support of a number of social and political initiatives including campaigning for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting to avoid being sent to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act.

Stella Assange, whose wedding dress to the Australian was created by Dame Vivienne, paid tribute to her as a ‘pillar of the anti-establishment’.

‘Vivienne was a Dame and a pillar of the anti-establishment. Bold, creative, thoughtful and a good friend. The best of Britain. She will be missed terribly by me and many others,’ Assange posted on behalf of her husband.

American fashion designer Marc Jacobs said he was ‘heartbroken’ at the news of the death, writing in a post on Instagram: ‘You did it first. Always. Incredible style with brilliant and meaningful substance.

‘I continue to learn from your words, and, all of your extraordinary creations. I will always remember the night we bonded over our mutual love for Yves Saint Laurent.

‘You never failed to surprise and to shock. I am grateful for the moments I got to share with you and Andreas.

‘Rest in Peace dear Vivienne, although, somehow peace seems like the wrong word.’

The self-styled queen of punk always injected controversy into the fashion industry with her risque creations.

The designer was largely responsible for anti-establishment punk fashion and became known for her subversive and eccentric take on traditional British style.

She and McLaren, one-time manager of punk band the Sex Pistols, opened the shop where Hynde worked called Let It Rock – also known as Sex – in the early 1970s where she began selling her outrageous outfits.

The punk style included bondage gear, safety pins, razor blades, bicycle or lavatory chains and spiked dog collars.

The style icon caused a stir in 1992 when she collected her OBE from the Queen minus her underwear and twirled round in the courtyard to reveal all.

In 2006 when she was made a Dame, she opted again not to wear knickers and went to Buckingham Palace wearing a pair of silver horns.

Describing her outfit on the day – a black cap perched on the back of vibrant orange hair and a black dress with campaign badges and the tiny horns on her head – she said it showed her as an urban guerrilla and a Che Guevara figure.

She explained: ‘I’m supposed to be a bit like a Che Guevara – an urban guerrilla, with my cap, this kind of jungle net and a badge for my Active Resistance to Propaganda campaign.’

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