The Legacy of Vivienne Westwood
by Miko Rytkönen·
The death of Vivienne Westwood on December 29th marks the end of an era. Vivienne was a pioneer who forever altered how millions of people view fashion, and more importantly, what fashion can be. A beacon of the good in humanity: it would be a challenge to find bad things to say about her. From bringing the punk aesthetic and values to the mainstream fashion world with her rebellious designs, advocating for sustainability and human rights her values and actions symbolize everything fashion could be. In fact, the philosophy we here at outrare. (we're creating the worlds best platform to shop for vintage designer fashion sustainably second-hand) follow is largely influenced by her. That's why I wanted to talk a little about her legacy.
Vivienne on Sustainability
There's a lot of talk about sustainability in fashion nowadays (great!) but things used to be very different. Vivienne first raised to prominence in the 1970s, during the punk movement in London. It was a very different time. But already back then, Vivienne, unlike many other designers, houses and brands had her eyes already set on sustainability. If you imagine the scene all the way back then (with homosexuality still being illegal in some places, gender equality still having a long way to go and the vietnam war was just coming to an end with conflicts around the world..) It was a different time, and not for the better. Fast fashion was just becoming more prevalent, with focus on cheap, disposable clothing being mass produced and sold as quickly as possible. The focus was all on quantity over quality.
Vivienne was one of the very few designers ahead of her time, in terms of her focus on sustainability. From the very start of her career, she had an understanding on the importance of sustainable materials and production methods and she consistently incorporated this into her work. However, her commitment to sustainability was not widely recognized or appreciated until much, much later.
She sums up her thoughts in regards to sustainability in a catchy sentence: "Buy less, choose well, make it last", encouraging people to invest in high-quality, timeless pieces, rather than constantly buying cheap, disposable fashion.
The Queen of Punk
Vivienne got her start in the 70s within the punk movement in London. She and her then partner Malcolm McLaren owned a clothing store called "Let It Rock" (later changed to "SEX"). The store was hugely popular inside the movement, and later helped bring the look to the mainstream. Vivienne designed many of the clothes sold in the store, from her iconic safety pin dress to messy shirts armed with edgy slogans. She quickly gained reputation as an extremely talented designer.
The punk movement was a countercultural movement characterized by a DIY attitude, a rejection of mainstream norms and values and a big emphasis on individual expression. Fashion was a big part of the movement, and Vivienne was on the forefront of the entire movement. Not only did she have monumental impact on the fashion world with bringing the look to catwalks, she had major impact of the wider culture as the punk movement gained large visibility across the world. Her garments beautifully communicated what the movement was about. The distinct DIY aesthetic of the movement that she helped popularize and brought to the mainstream fashion world is still echoed by many brands and designers today.
McLaren, the other owner of SEX also happened to be the manager of a little musical act called the Sex Pistols, who frequently wore Vivienne's designs helping further cement her as the queen of punk.
Vivienne the Pioneer of Androgynous Fashion
It is an understatement to call Vivienne a pioneer of androgynous fashion. Her commitment to gender fluidity and inclusivity has had a long lasting impact on the fashion industry.
When Vivienne first rose to prominence, androgony was not widely accepted in fashion. Many designers focused on creating clothes specifically designed for a single sex, with focus on highlighting certain features traditionally associated with those sexes. Ther ewas little room for gender-neutral or unisex fashion.
Vivienne challenged this norm with her androgynous style, creating pieces that could be worn by both men and women. Her deep connection to the punk movement that famously rejected traditional gener roles and pushed for individual expression was extremely visible on her designs. She used her fashion to make a statement about gender in fashion and challenge the mainstream values.
As expected, Vivienne faced criticsm and backlash for her unconventional designs. However, she remained true to her values and vision and continued to push the boundaries of fashion with her gender-neutral pieces.
Time has proven her to be right. Over time, Westwood's androgynous style has become more widely accepted, and androgyny is now a normal part of the fashion landscape. Many designers have followed in Westwood's footsteps and have embraced androgyny in their own work, and there is now a much greater range of gender-neutral and unisex clothing available to consumers.
Westwood's impact on androgynous fashion cannot be overstated, and she will always be remembered as a trailblazer who helped to make androgyny a mainstream concept in fashion.
Vivienne's Impact on Education
Vivienne legacy also involves directly educating the next generation of designers and creative thinkers.
While her efforts and projects were many, one of her most notable projects was the Vivienne Westwood School of Designed, founded in 2005. Designed to provide students with a creative learning envrionment, it offered courses in fashion design, textiles and other related fields. Vivienne was very deeply tommited to the school and was actively involved in its day-to-day operations, often visiting to support and guide the students.
Further, Vivienne also established the Vivienne Westwood Scholarship which provides financial assistance to students studying fashion or other related subjects. The scholarship has enabled countless of promising designers to pursue their dreams and launch careers in the industry.
Beyond her own initiatives, Vivienne was also an extremely vocal advocate for the importance of education in general. She believed that education was vital for personal and societal development and user her platform to speak out on issues related to it.
Overall, Vivienne Westwood's impact on education has been profound, and her commitment to nurturing the next generation of designers and creative thinkers will continue to inspire and benefit students for years to come.
Vivienne the Inspiration
Vivienne broke a lot of boundaries and pioneered many things that were against the norms of her time. She is widely regarded as one of the most influental figures in fashion history. So, it should come as no surprise that many famed designers credit her as great sources of inspiration.
One such designer who was heavily influenced by Vivienne is Alexander McQueen. McQueen, who rose to fame in the 90s, was inspired by Westwood's avant-garde, cutting-edge designs and her commitment to pushing the boundarie. He often cited Westwood as an inspiration for his own work, and he even described her as a "mentor."
Another designer who credits Vivienne as a major source of influence is John Galliano. John, who worked as the creative director for Dior between 96 and 2011. Currently John is the creative director for Maison Margiela. Known for his exaggerated, thetrical designs he often cited Vivienne as a great, great inspiration and described Westwood as having had a huge influence on him. He has even stated that she was one of the reasons he initially got into fashion.
Other designers who credit Westwood as major influences include Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs, among many others.
There's a lot more that could be said about Vivienne. We cannot possibly do her justice in a single article (it would take several books.) She was a lifelong activist, during a time when activism was very separate from fashion. She designed outfits for the royal family, including Princess Diana. She put London on the fashion map. She innovated draping techniques, and her tailoring skills are unparalleled with a level of craftsmanship that is extremely rare in the industry.
R.I.P. Vivienne Westwood, a legend & an icon.
April 8, 1941 - December 29, 2022