The designer dies at the age of 81

Vivienne Westwood at Paris Fashion Week in 2019. (Image: Getty Images)

obituary

The British fashion designer went down in history as the inventor of punk, the ultimate anti-fashion. Dame Vivienne Westwood died peacefully on Thursday, aged 81, in Clapham, South London, surrounded by her family.

Vivienne Westwood had what others rarely have in the fashion business, which is all about appearances: backbone. Anyone who was naive enough to ask her an innocuous and trivial question received an answer that left people perplexed. The unladylike lady refused to smile into the camera flash and spread niceties as a fair-weather fairy, preferring to make galling comments on problem areas such as climate protection, consumption and sustainability.

However, she has gone down in fashion history, rather reluctantly in retrospect, as the inventor of punk, the anti-fashion par excellence – which in turn was commercialized and co-opted by the establishment. In the end, even the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art paid homage to punk. By then, Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols and Westwood’s second husband, had been dead for three years.

«Pirates» and «Witches»

The movement of the New Romantics lasted even shorter than punk. Stars with pretty faces like Adam Ant and Boy George had a boisterous costume party in the early 1980s and didn’t skimp on make-up. Vivienne Westwood designed a collection for urban pirates in 1981, one for witches in 1983. In 1987 it presented its company logo in the form of a stylized golden orb surrounded by a ring of planets. Her shop on the former “punk street”, Kings Road, she called “World’s End” with black humor.

The fact that she was content with social housing for years solidified the image of the English Eccentric that the media eagerly painted. When asked if she actually bothered being called an eccentric, she replied: “(. . .) In an age of conformity, it’s good to be seen as eccentric. In fact, I am one of the least eccentric people in this uncivilized world. I want to change the world for the better and have a healthy optimism even when my mind tells me there is little chance of improvement.”

Orthodoxy as the Grave of Intelligence

In the same interview that the publicist Jörn Jacob Rohwer conducted with Westwood for his book “The Seismography of Questions” (published by Salis-Verlag in 2014), she revealed who she particularly liked to see her creations on: “I love it, the supermodels to attract. Because they have glamour. Because they resemble an archetypal ideal of beauty that doesn’t really exist. Like my fashion, which has something so nostalgic and idealistic about it.”

When Rohwer asked what led to her own desire to be different and have her own style: «To paraphrase Bertrand Russell: ‘Orthodoxy is the grave of intelligence.’ When you do what everyone else does, when you think what everyone else thinks , no one thought about it. I’ve always tried my own and never immediately believed what others told me. The more I read and learn, the more I see my attitude and my experiences confirmed.»

Vivienne Westwood was also unorthodox in love. She met her third and last husband, the Austrian Andreas Kronthaler, as a visiting professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Kronthaler was her student. The marriage lasted 30 years until her death. Vivienne Westwood, warner in the urban desert of London, remained pessimistic about the development of fashion and also about the potential of young people. She lamented a great loss of culture. Which has undoubtedly grown drastically with her passing.

12 fashion moments from Vivienne Westwood’s life:

In the 1970s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, founder and manager of the punk band Sex Pistols, opened a clothing boutique on King’s Road, where they sold their first own designs: they are pictured here in 1977, when the British punk scene had its heyday. (Image: Getty Images)

The fashion designer caused a stir in 1992 after she received the

The fashion designer caused a stir in 1992 after she received the “Order of the British Empire” from Queen Elizabeth II: After the audience at Buckingham Palace, Vivienne Westwood twirled her wide wool skirt and revealed her tights underneath, but no panties. (Image: Alamy Stock Photo)

That too went down in the fashion history books: Naomi Campbell's fall on the catwalk in 1993 - in 23-centimetre-high platform shoes in imitation crocodile. (Image: Getty Images)

That too went down in the fashion history books: Naomi Campbell’s fall on the catwalk in 1993 – in 23-centimetre-high platform shoes in imitation crocodile. (Image: Getty Images)

Possibly a nod to the Buckingham Palace incident, model Carla Bruni sported a Josephine hairdo in this fur outfit with an empire silhouette in 1994. (Image: Getty Images)

Possibly a nod to the Buckingham Palace incident, model Carla Bruni sported a Josephine hairdo in this fur outfit with an empire silhouette in 1994. (Image: Getty Images)

Vivienne Westwood's fashion was exciting in the truest sense: if not exactly provocative, then above all highly sophisticated in terms of cut, extremely elaborate and often based on dramatic silhouettes of historical epochs. Fall/Winter 2006 fashion show. (Image: Imago)

Vivienne Westwood’s fashion was exciting in the truest sense: if not exactly provocative, then above all highly sophisticated in terms of cut, extremely elaborate and often based on dramatic silhouettes of historical epochs. Fall/Winter 2006 fashion show. (Image: Imago)

Big drama: Westwood, known for exuberant gowns, was also the designer behind the wedding dress that Sarah Jessica Parker wore in a rather emotional scene in 2008's cult film Sex and the City: The Movie. (Image: Imago)

Big drama: Westwood, known for exuberant gowns, was also the designer behind the wedding dress that Sarah Jessica Parker wore in a rather emotional scene in 2008’s cult film Sex and the City: The Movie. (Image: Imago)

Known as a genius provocateur, Westwood hired former Baywatch mermaid Pamela Anderson as a model for her fall/winter 2009 fashion show, as well as for photographer Juergen Teller's new campaign. (Image: Imago)

Known as a genius provocateur, Westwood hired former Baywatch mermaid Pamela Anderson as a model for her fall/winter 2009 fashion show, as well as for photographer Juergen Teller’s new campaign. (Image: Imago)

The description

The description “Pompadour meets punk” was often used for Westwood’s collections: In her collection for winter 2011/12 she showed coquettish bodice creations – with a modern, provocative attitude. (Image: Imago)

In the fashion industry, Vivienne Westwood has been called the queen of political activism: climate revolution was her motto, which she demonstrated ten years ago, in September 2012, at the finale of her show. (Image: Getty Images)

In the fashion industry, Vivienne Westwood has been called the queen of political activism: climate revolution was her motto, which she demonstrated ten years ago, in September 2012, at the finale of her show. (Image: Getty Images)

Westwood and her partner Andreas Kronthaler at London Fashion Week in February 2014. The two designed fashion together. (Image: Getty Images)

Westwood and her partner Andreas Kronthaler at London Fashion Week in February 2014. The two designed fashion together. (Image: Getty Images)

Protest shirts have always been part of Vivienne Westwood's designs: in May 2017, the designer publicly showed solidarity with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and launched a unisex T-shirt, the proceeds of which went to Assange's whistle-blowing platform. (Image: Imago)

Protest shirts have always been part of Vivienne Westwood’s designs: in May 2017, the designer publicly showed solidarity with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and launched a unisex T-shirt, the proceeds of which went to Assange’s whistle-blowing platform. (Image: Imago)

“I work a lot with graphics and lettering, which helps me to communicate very directly,” Vivienne Westwood once said. Pictured here backstage at London Fashion Week in June 2017. (Image: Getty Images)

The best articles from “NZZ Bellevue”, compiled for you once a week by the editors: subscribe now for free.

The article is in German

Tags: designer dies age