Famous and not so famous Brits (part5)
Dame Vivienne Westwood, the woman who dressed the Sex Pistols
Dame Vivienne Westwood is Britain’s bestknown fashion designer, and a highly successful businesswoman also known for her political campaigning. Born into a working-class family in 1941, she attended grammar school in Glossop, Derbyshire until she was 16, when her family moved south to Harrow. She began a course at Harrow School of Art but left after a year to start earning a living, and worked as a secretary and primary school teacher. She also married Derek Westwood, with whom she had a son, but the marriage was short-lived. Her life changed when she met the Situationist and provocateur Malcolm McLaren, who encouraged her to develop wider cultural interests, as well as her hobby of making clothes.
Together they opened a boutique in London’s King’s Road in 1971 which specialised at first in Teddy Boy and Mod fashions and was called “Let It Rock”. When its name was changed to “Sex” it became famous, or notorious, as the home of punk fashion, which, like the music which inspired it, was designed to shock. Her clothes were described as “perverse, irrelevant, unwearable” – yet they sold well, and not just to teenage punks inspired by the Sex Pistols, whom she dressed.
After her initial success, she gradually moved into the mainstream fashion industry, but retained her flair for shock and outrage. She was called “the stylist for those who hated style” but, as her designs moved on from the punk era, began to acquire a more exclusive clientele, eventually even including members of the Royal Family (Princess Eugenie and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall). In the 1990s and 2000s she also distanced herself from the youth cultures which had made her name, declaring an allegiance to classical culture and opposing consumerism and cultural dumbingdown.
She now lives in a Queen Anne house with her second husband, after spending thirty years of her life in a council flat in Clapham. She has been called “a mixture of innovation and eccentricity”, and her political activities are as provocative as her clothes. She annoyed Margaret Thatcher in 1989, by appearing on the front cover of the glossy society magazine Tatler dressed as the then Prime Minister in a suit Thatcher had ordered from her; she was also a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
NOTE: Dame Vivienne Westwood supports environmental causes, campaigns against climate change and is highly critical of government attempts to restrict personal freedom and civil liberties, as can be seen from her blog: http://climaterevolution. co.uk/wp/
Colin Ellis, NaukaBezGranic