Vivienne Westwood

Very few people are true rebels. Most people are simply too scared to be. An off-the-cuff, irrev­er­ent remark does not a mav­er­ick make. A rebel is some­one who defies the status quo con­sis­tently, with every­thing they say and do. Their inde­pen­dent spirit and out­look on life dic­tate their actions, and their mere exis­tence makes the earth tremor with impact, and the world is instantly a more inter­est­ing place. On April 8, 1941, one of the few true rebels, Dame Vivienne Westwood, graced the planet and fash­ion was never to be the same again.

Walking into her sleek head­quar­ters in London’s Battersea, it’s easy to forget the brand’s begin­nings as out­fit­ters for the out­siders, but the his­tory is all over the office walls, in her man­i­festos and mantras and the lit­er­a­ture strewn on desks. I just happen to have this on the table,” she says as she thrusts a map of the world in my direc­tion. Red is unin­hab­it­able, the green bit is all that’s going to be left once it gets five degrees warmer. Can you imag­ine the suf­fer­ing?” Westwood is talk­ing about the cur­rent crisis of the rising global tem­per­a­ture, just one of the causes close to her heart. She is exactly how I envis­aged her to be and is softly spoken, with a gentle Midlands twang. 74 years young, she wears her own designs and car­ries her­self with con­fi­dence. She speaks with the pas­sion of a staunch dis­si­dent. Her art and activism go hand in hand, one inform­ing the other, and a polit­i­cal thread is always present.

Born in Derbyshire, Vivienne Isabel Swire led an unas­sum­ing exis­tence (pick­ing up the second name Westwood via a brief mar­riage to her first hus­band Derek) until she met Malcolm McLaren, who would go on to manage the Sex Pistols. Together they ran the bou­tique SEX on 430 Kings Road, and birthed a spir­i­tual home for punk fash­ion that served as a land­mark for the emerg­ing sub­cul­ture in the 70s. Its fol­low­ers, like the gen­er­a­tion rent of today, were dis­en­fran­chised and dis­en­gaged youth, who were frankly dis­ap­pointed in a gov­ern­ment that they felt didn’t deserve them. The fash­ion, or more accu­rately anti-fash­ion, acted as a two fin­gers up at a stiff upper lip estab­lish­ment and a pow­er­ful visual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the move­ment. Westwood went on to cement her­self within the fash­ion indus­try with her and McLaren’s Pirate col­lec­tion in 1981, their first cat­walk show, her 1982 – 83 Buffalo Girls col­lec­tion, (yes, the one that spawned #Pharrellhat) and the sub­se­quent autumn/​winter 83 – 84 Witches col­lec­tion, inspired by Keith Haring and the emerg­ing hip hop scene that NYC’s under­ground spawned. It was these for­ma­tive years that set up the DNA of the label and gained her world­wide acclaim as a designer. She influ­enced a gen­er­a­tion of her con­tem­po­raries, intro­duc­ing inno­v­a­tive shapes and cuts that broke new ground. Her ide­olo­gies, whilst born from her punk roots, res­onated with the main­stream, and would go on to under­pin her epony­mous label for the next 30 years. You can wear any­thing today. In my day you couldn’t. If you walked down the street in full punk, people would turn and watch and look at you. When I started with Malcolm, the ideas we had, they’d not been touched,” she rem­i­nisces on her influ­ence, and how fash­ion has changed. Like walk­ing down the street dressed in rubber, and my shop assis­tant Jordan, with her face painted like the Nuba people and wear­ing a see-through mac! Now there’s no stone that hasn’t been turned over. There’s noth­ing new to dis­cover, now it’s how you do some­thing. I would say that my influ­ence has been an awful lot to do with the cut of clothes. Andreas [Kronthaler, Westwood’s hus­band and co-designer] and I, the way we cut clothes has influ­enced the high street, it’s influ­enced all kinds of things. You wouldn’t be sur­prised if you saw a dress with no hem, or a torn hem, so I think it’s ever so much to do with the way we cut the clothes.”

From pio­neer­ing cat­walk shows with diverse models on the runway to her tire­less work as an activist, Westwood’s impact on cul­ture is immea­sur­able. She com­pels those who come into con­tact with her and her brand to chal­lenge the status quo and make them­selves as informed as pos­si­ble — a luxury aided by new media and an oppor­tu­nity that she believes this gen­er­a­tion isn’t taking for granted. I’m really impressed with young people and how they do know what’s going on in the world today. There seemed to be a big gap in the 80s and 90s when you just thought people didn’t know any­thing,” she says. They were so apo­lit­i­cal. I used to tell Terry [Jones], you ought to use your mag­a­zine as a plat­form, you know you ought to be giving infor­ma­tion out to people.”

In 2015, Westwood is a fash­ion behe­moth, as British as a red phone box. One of the most iconic design­ers on the planet, she’s as irrev­er­ent as ever. Her DIY approach under­pins the belief that anyone can make a dif­fer­ence. To call her a dilet­tante does her no jus­tice, she believes in her causes and cham­pi­ons them like a true activist, urging you to take action: We’ve got to believe that we’ve still got a chance to save the world. But it’s so urgent, we have to do it now.”

Dame Vivienne Westwood is a woman who has called for a cli­mate rev­o­lu­tion, going green, the fall of frack­ing and active resis­tance, and she vehe­mently believes in buying less, choos­ing well and making it last”. I realised that my com­pany expanded too quickly, it’s too big for me and our prod­uct is too much, I’m trying to con­cen­trate and reduce things,” she says. I make clothes that I like, and if the public likes them, then I con­tinue, and that’s why I have con­tin­ued. But there’s no point in me making some­thing I don’t like. I’m not just trying to make clothes, I think I’m trying to give people a won­der­ful choice to express their per­son­al­ity. And that has got to do with rebel­lion, it’s qual­ity not quan­tity. That’s true rebel­lion to me.”