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Vivienne Westwood, 81, dies; Brought provocative punk style to high fashion

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Vivienne Westwood, the designer who defined the punk look, using rock iconography, royalty, art and religion as recurring themes in collections that brought a rebellious tone to British style and who later went on to a long career in high fashion , died on Thursday in the borough of Clapham, in south London. She was 81 years old.

His death was announced by his company, Vivienne Westwood, who did not specify the cause.

Westwood was just 30 when she and her boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren – who as a music manager would go on to manage the Sex Pistols – opened a shop called Let It Rock at 430 King’s Road in London. The business, which had a pink vinyl sign on the front, was unconventional, selling fetish and fashion clothes inspired by the 1950s Teddy Boy look.

In shaping the look of the era, Westwood came to be known as the godmother of punk. After her partnership with Mr. McClaren finished, she began designing collections under her own name and soon established an international reputation. She opened more stores in London and around the world; his provocative creations appeared on supermodels and celebrities and influenced mainstream fashion. Corsets, platform shoes and mini-crinis (a combination of Victorian crinoline and miniskirt) became her trademarks.

“People really associate her with punk and that whole aesthetic, which is accurate and how she made her name, but she is so much more than that,” Véronique Hyland, author of “Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion From the New Look to Millennials Pink” (2022), said in an interview for this obituary. “She was influenced by art history, old master paintings. She is very focused on the English tailoring tradition.”

In a memoir published in 2014 and simply called “Vivienne Westwood”, Westwood wrote that people “still seem surprised that you can have been in punk and also be in haute couture, but it’s all connected”.

“It’s not about fashion, you see,” she wrote. “For me, it’s about the story. It’s about ideas.”

The King’s Road store always offered a peek into its owners’ obsessions with class, fashion and propriety. Over the years, its name has changed frequently – it was known as Let It Rock; Too fast to live, too young to die; Sex; seditious; and End of the World. Their products also changed frequently.

Mrs. Westwood made the clothes, which might include shirts with cut-out pictures of pin-up girls or studded briefs made from T-shirts with slogans like “Destroy” or “Be Reasonable, Demand the Impossible.”

“I didn’t see myself as a fashion designer, but as someone who wanted to confront the rotten status quo through the way I dressed myself and others,” Westwood said in her memoirs, which she wrote with Ian Kelly.

Chrissie Hynde, who would later become the lead singer of the Pretenders, was an assistant at the shop. She was quoted in Westwood’s memoirs saying that “I don’t think punk would have happened without Vivienne and Malcolm”.

“Something would have happened,” she continued, “and it could have been called punk, but it wouldn’t have looked the way it did, even in America. And the look was important.”

At times, the choices made by Westwood and McLaren, an art school dropout inspired by the theater of the absurd championed by the French situationists, can be controversial; they already included swastikas in their designs. (“We were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values ​​or taboos and you’re all fascists,'” she later explained.)

They saw the store as both a laboratory and a salon. When Mr. McLaren managed the Sex Pistols, Ms. Westwood dressed them in shop T-shirts and bondage pants accessorized with chains and razor blades. His aggressively delivered songs, with names like “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen”, were a soundtrack to Britain’s nihilism in the 1970s.

“I was about 36 when punk happened, and I was upset about what was happening in the world,” Westwood told Harper’s Bazaar in 2013. “It was the hippies who taught my generation politics, and that’s what I care about — the world being so corrupt and mismanaged, people suffering, wars, all these terrible things.” That’s how swastika symbols came to be used in punk, for example.”

A full obituary will follow.

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