In 1965 she met Malcolm McLaren and began her revolutionary career in fashion. Their collaboration lay at the heart of punk culture – his desire to push the boundaries of contemporary society and her ability to translate these ideas into clothing. In 1971, McLaren and Westwood opened her legendary store on Kings Road, London. The shop was given a string of names, beginning with Let it Rock and ending with World’s End (1979), the name it still bears today. Westwood’s designs were soon considered the epitome of British avant-garde.
In 1981, Westwood showed her first catwalk presentation in London, launching her celebrated Pirates collection and kick-starting the New Romantic movement. Indeed, at the forefront of innovative design, her Punkature (S/S 1983) and Witches (A/W 1983) collections first introduced the tube skirt and customized trainers to the catwalk respectively. After a string of successful collections, Westwood and McLaren finally parted ways in 1984.
In the years that followed, she no longer drew inspiration from subversion and the streets, but rather, a meticulous study of history, traditional fabrics and Savile Row tailoring techniques. In her Mini-Crini (S/S 1985) and Harris Tweed (A/W 1987) collections, corsets and crinolines were reinvented as outer garments, pioneering the “innerwear-as-outerwear” statement.
Soon enough, Westwood’s talent became increasingly acknowledged in mainstream culture. She was named Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Council Awards for two consecutive years, in 1990 and 1991; an unprecedented feat. 1991 also saw Westwood present Cut and Slash (S/S 1991), her first show specifically for men.
Over her forty year career, Westwood has drawn on a variety of different sources for inspiration – the highly sexualised Vive la Cocotte (A/W 1995) focused on the provocative seventeenth century courtesan Ninon de l’Enclos, exaggerating the female form with padded busts and bustles. In more recent years, Westwood’s shows in Milan, London and Paris, including her +5° (A/W 2009), Gaia! – The Only One (S/S 2011) and Climate Revolution (S/S 2013) collections have been used as a medium to discuss politics and culture; more specifically the urgent need to act against climate change. In fact, many of Westwood’s collections are recognised as having significant cultural repercussions far beyond the world of fashion.
To date, Vivienne Westwood is one of the last truly independent fashion companies within the international arena, producing four clothing labels, accessories, fragrances and homeware collections that appeal to a wide audience; from young to old, rock to royalty, jeans to couture gowns.