Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at 81. Westwood's eponymous fashion house announced her death on social media platforms, saying she died peacefully. A cause of death was not disclosed. "Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better," the statement said. Westwood’s fashion career began in the 1970s when her radical approach to urban street style took the world by storm, the AP reports. But she went on to enjoy a long career highlighted by a string of triumphant runway shows and museum exhibitions.
The name Westwood became synonymous with style and attitude even as she shifted focus from year to year, her range vast and her work never predictable. As her stature grew, she seemed to transcend fashion. The young woman who had scorned the British establishment eventually became one of its leading lights, even as she kept her hair dyed that trademark bright shade of orange. Andrew Bolton, curator of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, said Westwood and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren—her onetime partner—"gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical it broke from anything in the past." “The ripped shirts, the safety pins, the provocative slogans," Bolton said. "She introduced postmodernism. It was so influential from the mid-70s."
"The punk movement has never dissipated—it’s become part of our fashion vocabulary. It’s mainstream now," Bolton said. Westwood was self-taught, with no formal fashion training. She told Marie Claire magazine that she learned how to make her own clothes as a teenager by following patterns. Westwood was born in the Derbyshire village of Glossop on April 8, 1941. Her family moved to London in 1957 and she attended art school for one term. She met McLaren in the 1960s while working as a primary school teacher after separating from her first husband, Derek Westwood. She and McLaren opened a small shop in Chelsea in 1971, the tail end of the "Swinging London" era ushered in by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The shop changed its name and focus several times, operating as “SEX”—Westwood and McLaren were fined in 1975 for an “indecent exhibition” there—and "World’s End" and "Seditionaries." Among the workers at their shop was Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who called Westwood "a one off, driven, single minded, talented lady” in a statement to the AP. "Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place,” tweeted Chrissie Hynde, the frontwoman of the Pretenders and another former employee. The rebel eventually became one of the fashion world's most celebrated stars. But she still found ways to shock: Her Statue of Liberty corset in 1987 is remembered as the start of "underwear as outerwear" trend.
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