Why Vivienne Westwood Was So Much More Than A Fashion Icon
As London Fashion Week kicks off next Friday (17 February), Dazed’s Lynette Nylander pays tribute to one of the UK’s most influential artists and designers
As a young and naive follower of fashion in my teens, Vivienne Westwood was an idol of mine. In fact, her clothes were my first designer purchase. When the world lost her in December 2022, at the age of 81, I started to ponder on her legacy after putting aside my immediate feelings of sadness and nostalgia. Of course, there are the clothes; extreme platform heels, denim with distorted crotches, tweeds and tartans in bright, saturated hues (a nod to her working-class northern England roots) and, of course, her signature corsets (taken from her love of the 18th-century stalwart that stood its wearer tall, their bust out)... But it was her ability to thread the needles of the many subcultures, countries and people that interested her that resulted in one of the most expansive and incredible design catalogues fashion has ever seen – one that connected with both die-hard Westwood-ites and Gen-Z alike. Westwood spoke of her life, her journey, her story.
When she moved to London and embedded herself alongside the burgeoning punk movement with her then-partner Malcolm McLaren, she set in motion a cataclysmic idea of what dress could be, what it could represent and who could be involved. Their shop at 430 King’s Road celebrated an idea of otherness and doing away with the rigidity of the status quo that, while perhaps not intentional from a designer who was more acting in the moment than thinking about the future, set a blueprint for designers to embrace their own messages. In short, perhaps you aren’t for everyone, and that is OK.
Westwood also challenged what a designer can use their platform to celebrate. In the latter years of her career, she became more and more politically and environmentally outspoken. She encouraged consumption mindfulness with her famous phrase ‘Buy Less, Choose Well, Make It Last’, long before the word sustainability became part of the public lexicon. She called into question the fracking practices of oil and gas conglomerates and encouraged the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – all while being in the second half of life, resplendent in the same hair, makeup and fuck-you attitude of her 1970s self.
I think about my own teenage self, saving up for the black bowling bag with the Vivienne Westwood orb embroidered on the side. While I didn’t know her entire story at the time, perhaps what connected was seeing a designer, a woman, so comfortable with being herself. I was no punk rocker, but I felt a kinship with wanting an example of the road less travelled. Through fragments of history, and an astute ability to story tell through her work, she taught me that everything has an interconnectedness and can include all our personal stories. Design may have been her medium but freedom was her power, and as an activist, anarchist and feminist, that will last forever.
Lynette Nylander is the London-born New York-based executive editorial director of Dazed and a former deputy editor of i-D magazine and Teen Vogue