Westwood leaves her mark

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 12:00am

She's the Queen of Fashion. Vivienne Westwood has controversially worn this crown for more than 40 years from the early days of punk back in the 60s to the founding of her own internationally respected fashion label. An icon of style and design, Westwood is indisputably Britain's most original designer, influencing other designers who bask in her shadow and try to grab on to a bit of her magic.

Westwood is a maverick who is always ahead of her time. She possesses the rebelliousness of a true British eccentric whose ideas are forever threatening to become mainstream. She mixes bold originality with sober tradition in her designs. We might not realise it, but Westwood has been influencing the way we dress for four decades and she shows no signs of handing over her crown to anyone else. It is quite a responsibility, but Westwood has a toughness that seems everlasting. She is not going to go out of fashion because her designs are above fashion itself.

How did it all begin? Westwood was born Vivienne Swire in a small town in the north midlands of England in 1941. She had a happy childhood and at school was an intelligent but attention-seeking pupil. She effortlessly won a place at the local grammar school when she was 11 and she was determined to stand out from the crowd there by being smart and a little different from the others. When the school uniform changed to skirt and blouse, Westwood insisted on keeping her gymslip.

As she was growing up, Westwood wanted to dress like a woman and not like a girl. She left school at 16, not sure what she wanted to do with her life. She considered becoming a nurse or a hairdresser but then fate took a hand in shaping her future.

Westwood's father became redundant and the whole Swire family moved to London, where he got another job running a post office. She met her future husband, a lively young man called Derek Westwood, in the city and they got married. After attending a teacher training college, she began working at a local primary school. Through her brother she met an art student called Malcolm McLaren and her life changed yet again.

McLaren was full of unconventional ideas about everything and Westwood fell under his spell. She divorced Derek and moved in with McLaren, fully embracing his alternative lifestyle. The two of them scoured London markets for second-hand clothes which Westwood tampered with to resell in a shop they had opened in London's King's Road.

Within weeks, the shop had run out of stocks and McLaren persuaded Westwood to design her own garments. She was the first person to come up with the idea of T-shirts with a slogan on the front. The band The Sex Pistols started wearing Westwood clothes at their gigs and 'punk style' suddenly became all the rage.

The King's Road shop became the centre of London's alternative fashion industry and, in 1981, Westwood presented her first catwalk show. She combined historical fashion designs with modern ideas. After a successful Paris show, Westwood opened a shop in central London and customers had never seen anything like it. To get into the shop, clients walked down scaffolding into a building site. The clothes on sale were just as outrageous, but the fashion world loved them.

Westwood is impossible to pin down and today she is still producing clothes that are cool, risky and wayward. She has changed from an unsafe outsider into an internationally respected figurehead but she has never lost her knack for eye-opening fashion. She is simply unique.

How much do you know about Vivienne Westwood?

1. What is her place in the fashion world?

2. Where and when was she born?

3. Why did her family move to London?

4. Who was the student she met in London and how did he influence her future?

5. Where did the two of them open a shop?

6. What kind of clothes did they create?

7. What did Westwood soon begin to incorporate into her designs?

8. Why is she still popular today?


1. Westwood is a highly respected and innovative fashion designer.

2. She was born in the north midlands of England in 1941.

3. Her family moved to London when her father got a job there.

4. She met Malcolm McLaren and he introduced her to alternative ideas.

5. They opened a shop on London's King's Road.

6. Westwood and McLaren invented 'punk style'.

7. She mixed historical fashion designs with outrageous new ideas.

8. Westwood is still popular today because her designs are always different.