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In this series of blog posts, Circa Vintage takes a deep dive into the history of some of our favourite fashion designers. Today, it's the turn of activist and provocateur Vivienne Westwood.

Vivienne Westwood was born in Cheshire in 1941, and as a teenager undertook a jewellery course at the University of Westminster. She began selling jewellery on Portobello Road Market and worked as a primary school teacher. In the mid 1960s she met Malcom McLaren, who would later become manager of the Sex Pistols, who often dressed in the couple’s own designs. Inspired largely by the punk fashion phenomenon, she began co-managing ‘SEX’, McLaren’s punk boutique on the Kings Road, from the early 1970s onwards. Alongside McLaren’s vintage items, Westwood created t-shirts with provocative slogans and graphics, creating a reputation for designing clothes that were often political or controversial in nature.

Her first collection, shown in 1981 and made in collaboration with McLaren, was titled Pirate and featured billowing sleeves and bright primary colours. Following the success of Pirate, the relationship between the two would disintegrate, with Westwood establishing herself as an independent designer. After the mainstream caught on to the punk movement, Vivienne redesigned the shop. She named it Worlds End, the name that remains to this day.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the Westwood label established itself as one of the biggest and most radical names in fashion. Inspired by historical British dress, the gothic fashions of the 19th century and classical imagery, Westwood became known for tight corsets, bustles and her use of tartan, in both clothing and accessories. Her name soon became synonymous with the New Romantic and Punk movements, with their anti-establishment attitudes and transgressive approaches to fashion, and she is a three time winner of the British Fashion Designer of the Year Award. 

The Westwood fashion empire has continued to expand, including bridalwear, shoes, cosmetics and perfumes, and its designs have been worn by a number of celebrity clients, including Dita Von Teese, Princess Eugenie and Marion Cotillard. The political undertone of Westwood’s ethos continues to this day, and her activism, fighting passionately against climate change and supporting the use of more sustainable materials and practices within the fashion industry.



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