Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at age 81.
Westwood eponymous fashion house announcement her death on social media platforms, saying she died peacefully. The cause of death was not disclosed in the statement.
Westwood’s fashion career began in the 1970s with the punk explosion, when his radical approach to urban street style took the world by storm. But she went on to a long career marked by a series of triumphant shows in London, Paris, Milan and New York.
The Westwood name became synonymous with style and attitude even as it shifted focus from year to year. His range was vast and his work was never predictable.
As her stature grew, she seemed to transcend fashion, with her designs featured in museum collections around the world. The young woman who had scorned the British establishment eventually became one of its leading figures, and she used her elite position to push for environmental reforms while keeping her hair dyed the bright orange hue which has become his trademark.
Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, said Westwood would be celebrated for pioneering the punk look, combining a radical approach to fashion with the anarchic punk sounds developed by the Sex Pistols, managed by her partner then Malcolm McLaren.
“They gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical that it broke with everything that was going on in the past,” he said. “The torn shirts, the safety pins, the provocative slogans. She introduced postmodernism. It was so influential since the mid-70s. The punk movement never dissipated – it’s now part of our vocabulary of fashion. It’s become mainstream now.”
Westwood’s long career was full of contradictions: she was a lifelong rebel who was repeatedly honored by Queen Elizabeth II. She dressed like a teenager even in her 60s and became an outspoken supporter of the fight against global warming, warning of planetary catastrophe if climate change was left unchecked.
In her punk days, Westwood’s clothes were often intentionally shocking: T-shirts decorated with drawings of naked boys and “bondage pants” with sadomasochistic overtones were standard fare in her popular London boutiques. But Westwood managed to transition from punk to high fashion without wasting time, pursuing her career without lapsing into self-caricature.
“She was always trying to reinvent fashion. Her work is provocative, it’s transgressive. It’s very rooted in the English tradition of pastiche, irony and satire. She’s very proud of her English, and she loves it. ‘always send,’ Bolton said. .
One of these transgressive and controversial designs featured a swastika, an inverted image of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the word “Destroy”. In an autobiography written with Ian Kelly, she said it was part of a statement against politicians who torture people, quoting Chilean Augusto Pinochet. When asked if she regretted the swastika design in a 2009 interview with Time magazine, Westwood said no.
“I don’t, because we were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists,'” she replied.
She approached her work with enthusiasm in her early years, but over time she seemed to tire of the clamor and buzz. After decades of creating, she sometimes spoke wistfully of going beyond fashion to be able to focus on environmental issues and educational projects.
“Fashion can be so boring,” she told The Associated Press after showing off one of her new collections at a 2010 show. “I try to find something else to do.” At the time, she was talking about plans to launch an art and science TV series.