Dame Vivienne Westwood, an Architect of Punk Fashion, Dies at 81

Vivienne Westwood and models.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Dame Vivienne Westwood has passed at the age of 81. Although no official cause of death has been made public, a statement released by her label says she died surrounded by family and friends in London. She spent her final days creating, designing, and writing.

Westwood will always be remembered as both a champion and cultivator of the style of dress associated with London’s ’70s punk rock scene. The designer not only led the aesthetics of that movement, she also managed to parlay that notoriety into one of Britain’s definitive fashion labels. Originally popularized by bands like the Sex Pistols, her frocks would come to be worn on the red carpets of severals Oscars, Met Galas, and international film festivals, along with multiple royal weddings.


Westwood was born Vivienne Swire in Tintwistle, Cheshire to a working class family. She feared her family’s humble economic situation would prevent her from pursuing a career in the arts, and she dropped out of art school after one semester. Instead, she worked in a factory while attending teacher’s college. Later, she’d make and sell her own jewelry while teaching primary school. An early marriage (from which she gained the last name of Westwood) faltered after she met Malcolm McLaren, an art school grad with a penchant for both provocation and entrepreneurship. They opened a boutique and clothing repair store in London’s Chelsea neighborhood originally called Let It Rock, but rechristened as simply SEX in 1974. Decorated in graffiti and chicken wire, the store sold fetishwear alongside the couple’s original designs. Around that time, McLaren began managing a young rock band named The Strand, but convinced the group to rename themselves The Sex Pistols in hopes of promoting the store. The rest is history. Sex Pistols became the London punk scene’s marquee band, and SEX its all-but-official outfitter.

New York Daily News Archive/New York Daily News/Getty Images

McLaren and Westwood began creating proper collections—and eventually renamed the store, yet again, to World’s End. But their personal and professional relationship ended in 1985 after McLaren moved to Los Angeles.

Westwood carried on under her own name, and her original fixation on subculture fashion gave way to a subversive take on the styles of the upperclass. The formula was a hit, and helped Westwood establish a global fashion brand. Among Westwood’s most memorable designs: Carrie Bradshaw’s wedding dress from Sex and the City’s first film, Pharrell William’s memorable (and memable) oversized buffalo hat, the the corset Gwen Stefani wore in No Doubt’s early “Spiderwebs” video, along with Dita Von Teese’s deep-purple wedding gown.

No succession plan has been announced for the brand, but it is widely assumed that Westwood’s second husband, Andreas Kronthaler—who has served as the designer’s creative partner since they married in 1992—will carry on the label.