Dame Vivienne Westwood, Legendary Fashion Designer, Dead at 81

Dame Vivienne Westwood, a pioneer of the punk rock fashion movement, celebrity-loved designer and longtime activist, has died. She was 81.

Westwood died Thursday peacefully and surrounded by friends and family in Clapham, South London, her team said in a statement. A cause of death was not immediately made public.

“I will continue with Vivienne in my heart,” said Austrian designer Andreas Kronthaler, Westwood’s husband and creative partner. “We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you darling.”

Westwood, known as a disrupter in the fashion industry and trailblazer of the the punk rock look that captivated London in the mid-1970s, was celebrated for her clothes and her causes.

“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 from her team continued. “She led an amazing life.”

Vivienne Westwood.
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They shared some of Westwood’s final thoughts before passing away. “Julian Assange is a hero and has been treated atrociously by the UK government. Capitalism is a crime. It is the root cause of war, climate change and corruption,” she said according to the statement.

The designer considered herself a Taoist. The statement from her team also included thoughts from Westwood on her spirituality. “Tao spiritual system. There was never more need for the Tao today. Tao gives you a feeling that you belong to the cosmos and gives purpose to your life: it gives you such a sense of identity and strength to know you’re living the life you can live and therefore ought to believing: make full use of your character and full use of your life on earth,” she wrote.

A lifelong activist, Westwood long fought to raise awareness about the causes she cared about the most. The Vivienne Foundation, a not-for-profit company, founded by Westwood, her sons and granddaughter in late 2022 will officially launch next year to honor her legacy.

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The Foundation’s goal will be to build awareness and create tangible change around four pillars: climate change, ending war, defending human rights and protesting capitalism.

Westwood was born Vivienne Isabel Swire in Glossop, Derbyshire, on April 8, 1941, and began designing clothes in 1971. She would amass fame for her designs over the next 60 years.

Westwood showed her first notable collection — created in collaboration with longtime creative partner Malcolm McLaren — in London in 1981 entitled ‘Pirate,’ and was later named British Designer of the Year in 1990 and 1991.

In 1992, the designer was awarded an O.B.E., which she received at Buckingham Palace from Queen Elizabeth II. She memorably wore nothing underneath her tailored suit and skirt but sheer stockings.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD.
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That same year, Westwood also began including wedding gowns in her collections and was made an Honorary Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art (RCA).

The punk legend married Austrian designer Kronthaler in 1993, whom she met while teaching in Vienna in 1988.

Westwood’s debuted her first fragrance ‘Boudoir’ — developed with Martin Gras of Dragoco — in 1998. “My perfume is called ‘Boudoir,'” Westwood said at the time, according to her brand site. “A boudoir is a dressing room and a place to get undressed. It signifies a woman’s space, a place where she is on intimate terms with herself, where she sees her faults and her potential.”

An exhibition focused exclusively on the legendary designer titled “Vivienne Westwood: the collection of Romilly McAlpine” opened in April 2000 at the Museum of London and ran three months.

The designer launched the official e-commerce brand website in 2001.

Throughout Westwood’s career, many signature shops and flagship stores popped up around London, in the US, and around the world. In 2002, a Vivienne Westwood boutique opened in Hong Kong and two more are launched in Korea. A new flagship opened in Milan, Italy in 2003. Two more flagship boutiques opened their doors in 2016 — in New York City and Paris.

In 2018, the designers collaborated with Burberry, to support of UK-based non-profit Cool Earth, to help with causes close to Westwood’s heart: protecting the endangered rainforests, combating global warming, protecting ecosystems, and providing employment for local people.

Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

According to the Vivienne Westwood brand, 2016 included a significant event. Westood’s long-term husband Kronthaler “debuted his first official collection there, under the name Andreas Kronthaler For Vivienne Westwood, replacing Gold Label forevermore.” Her main line continued to release bi-annual collections, shown separately.

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