In light of the announcement that Vivienne Westwood will be receiving the Savannah College of Art and Design André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award on May 15, we thought we would take a quick look back at where the queen of London punk and rebellion started. The school has previously honored designers like Francisco Costa, Diane von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta, John Galliano and more with the award. The former Vogue editor has also curated an exhibition of 25 of Westwood’s iconic designs, which will be on view at the SCAD Museum of Art from May 19 to Sept.13.
In the last few years London has build a strong reputation for churning out some of the most creative and risk taking designers of our time, but it seems most of this rebellion started back in the 1970’s with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren.
Dame Vivienne Westwood, was born Vivienne Isabel Swire on 8 April 1941. She is an English fashion designer and businesswoman largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream in the 1970’s. “I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way “ she says.
Westwood first caught the public attention when she started making Teddy Boy clothing inspired by bikers, fetishists and prostitutes for Malcolm McLaren’s boutique in the King’s Road called Let It Rock. Later known variously as Sex, Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, Seditionaries and now Worlds Ends where Westwood still sells her clothing today. It was their ability to combine clothing and music that shaped the 1970s UK punk scene, dominated by influencers like the band McLaren managed The Sex Pistols. In 1976 the Sex Pistol’s song God Save the Queen went to number one but was refused air time by the BBC. Subsequently the two garnered even more media attention as the band often wore Westwood and McLaren’s provocative messages. The clothing eventually lead to their prosecution under the obscenity laws but of course their reaction was to simply re-brand the shop once again and produce even more hard core images..
Westwood eventually went on to open four shops in London, expanding throughout the United Kingdom and the world, selling an increasingly varied range of products. Some of it linked to her many political causes that she is passionate about supporting such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, climate change and the civil rights group Liberty.
The Pirate Collection of 1981 was Westwood and McLaren’s first catwalk show. It offered a romantic look, which burst onto the London fashion scene and ensured this collection’s place in history. “We’ve only stopped to note significant innovations otherwise the ideas carry through and develop throughout the collections,” says Westwood. Pirates, AW 1981-82 was followed by revolutionary shows like Savage SS 1982, Buffalo Girls AW 1982-83 Punkature SS 1983, Witches AW 1983-84, Hypnos SS 1984, Clint Eastwood AW 1984-85 and Mini-Crini SS 1985. These early shows cermented Westwoods reputation as fashions bad girl and placed her in all the design history books.
During the years of 1988 – 1992 Westwood’s hero seemed to shift from punks and ragamuffins to ‘Tatler’ girls wearing clothes that parodied the upper class. A chance encounter inspired one of her most important and influential collections: the Harris Tweed collection of Autumn/Winter 1987. “My whole idea for this collection was stolen from a little girl I saw on the tube one day. She couldn’t have been more than 14. She had a little plaited bun, a Harris Tweed jacket and a bag with a pair of ballet shoes in it. She looked so cool and composed standing there.”
One interesting belief the designer has is that fashion is a combination and exchange of ideas between France and England. “On the English side we have tailoring and an easy charm, on the French side that solidity of design and proportion that comes from never being satisfied because something can always be done to make it better, more refined,” she says.
Vivienne Westwood will deservingly receive the Savannah College of Art and Design André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award on May 15. The exhibition showcasing 25 of Westwood’s iconic designs will be on view at the SCAD Museum of Art from May 19 to September 13.