7 of Vivienne Westwood’s most iconic outfits

Throughout the past 50 years, our beloved Dame Viv has never ever looked boring.

by James Anderson
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17 April 2020, 7:00am

Imagery Charlie Ley/Mirrorpix/Getty Images and Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

From pioneering punk fashion in the 70s, heralding in New Romantic chic in the early 80s, reviving corsets and platform shoes in the 90s to becoming a household name and global brand, Vivienne Westwood has been on quite the fashion journey. The outspoken environmental activist and protestor, who turned a grand 79 years old just last week, has won awards galore, been the subject of various books, exhibitions and documentaries, and is routinely cited as a source of inspiration by countless fashion students. And the ever-energetic Vivienne shows no signs of slowing down. As a belated birthday celebration, we're looking back at five decades of her most iconic sartorial moments. Long may she reign!

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Photo by Charlie Ley/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

1971: Rocking a look
From 1971 onwards, Vivienne and Malcolm McLaren (who died in 2010) unleashed a succession of ground-breaking retail experiments at their 430 King's Road shop in Chelsea (Vivienne still has a boutique there, named Worlds End). The first of these ventures was monikered Let it Rock, which toyed with pop culture nostalgia, specialising in original and re-worked 50s rock-n-roll attire, displayed amid retro 50s furnishings, records and magazines. This shot from five decades ago shows a young Vivienne looking timelessly fab with a very ahead-of-the-curve hairstyle – pretty much no one had spiky hair back then, after all.

1977: Destroy the past to create the future
Vivienne and Malcolm got bored of Let it Rock by 1973, and turned it into Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, in which they reimagined all manner of classic biker-inspired gear. In 1974, the restless duo boldly changed direction again and renamed the store SEX, offering outrageous-at-the-time rubber, PVC and leather kink-wear. The customers at SEX were a wild mix of thrill-seeking teens, fetish enthusiasts, sex workers, hardcore fashion queens and future members of the Sex Pistols (the band was managed by Malcolm), giving it a decent claim to being London punk's ground zero. Then, in 1976, SEX was re-invented as Seditionaries, selling the twosome’s unique T-shirts emblazoned with increasingly controversial imagery and shock-slogans, as well as amazing tartan bondage suits and boots. During this decade of innovation, Vivienne consistently wore all of her own punk-flavoured creations -- such as this Seditionaries cheesecloth ‘Destroy’ T-shirt, original examples of which are now extremely collectable and sell for well in excess of £1000 at auctions.

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1989: Prime prankster
In 1989, Vivienne freaked everyone out when this photograph of her looking identical to British Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher, graced the cover of Tatler magazine’s April issue. The mischievous image also appeared upon huge promotional billboards at that season’s London Fashion Week. For her Thatcher-makeover, Vivienne was clad in a classic Aquascutum suit, accessorised with a Maggie-esque string of pearls, handbag and stiffly-lacquered hair. The image was shot by photographer Michael Roberts, who encouraged Vivienne to camp it up for the camera. “Margaret Thatcher was a hypocrite. That’s what I put in my head,” Vivienne later recalled of the shoot, in her 2016 memoir, Get a Life!. “I thought: there’s the child in the hospital bed and there’s the TV camera. I’m going to show the world how much I care… I was so proud of my acting ability!” Needless to say, Vivienne was not a fan of Mrs Thatcher, though in 2015 she acknowledged to The Telegraph an admiration for the notorious Tory’s ultra-trad sense of style: “She was certainly in her lifetime the best-dressed woman.”

Photo by Martin Keene - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
Photo by Martin Keene - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

1992: No knickers naughtiness
In 2006, Vivienne was officially given a DBE by the Queen in honour of her ‘services to fashion’ (It was a far cry from the late 70s, when Vivienne used to wear her monarchy-mocking Seditionaries T-shirt, adorned with Jamie Reid’s collaged photo of Queenie with a safety pin through her nose!). Dame Vivienne had very memorably also been bestowed with royal approval back in 1992, when she was awarded an OBE. In true Vivienne style, she managed to turn the occasion into a tabloid sensation. How? After collecting her OBE medal from the Queen at Buckingham Palace, the designer gleefully twirled around in her long skirt, in front of the assembled papparazi waiting in the Palace courtyard. Cheeky Viv had apparently mislaid her undies that morning, so when the skirt rode up around her waist, her lady parts were caught on camera for all the world to see!

1993: The benchmark of success
This dreamy black and white portrait of Vivienne lounging on a park bench was one of the first ever pics taken of her by superstar-photographer Juergen Teller. Vivienne looks super-chilled and as stylish as ever, wearing one of the billowing, swirly-patterned purple frocks from her SS93 collection, with platform shoes from her AW93 line (the same super-high sort which famously caused Naomi Campbell to topple over, while tottering down the Westwood runway at Paris Fashion Week). Juergen subsequently became a good chum to Vivienne and Andreas and has collaborated on their seasonal advertising campaigns throughout the past decade. Years after taking this photograph, he proudly recalled that Vivienne had told him she thinks it’s one of the sexiest pictures anyone has ever taken of her. London’s V&A Museum clearly thought it was a great shot, too, because in 1997 the esteemed institution acquired the image for its permanent collection.

2014: Hack off the hair, hijack the headlines
Vivienne has never fallen into the trap of desperately trying to look young, unlike so many celebs. Not for her the Botox needle or Instagram filter: "Life becomes richer as you grow old," she enthused to The Independent, way back in 2002, adding "I like the ageing process and have no problem with it." While she might not be a spring chicken anymore, Vivienne still has a rebellious edge and understands how to use her fame and image to generate publicity for causes she believes in. Back in 2014, for example, she dramatically lopped off her previously long, dyed-red hair, replacing it with a natural silvery-grey crop: "Vivienne cut her hair as we must all wake up to Climate Change," her spokesperson helpfully informed The Telegraph. This dramatic chop was also a highly visible way for Vivienne to prove she’s totally down with being a senior citizen: "She wanted to cut the red out for a while and have it white -- to show she's proud of her age," confirmed the spokesperson (who, quite possibly, was knee-deep in snipped-off strands of red hair at the time…).

2020: Green goddess
For many years, Vivienne has tirelessly campaigned for action to be taken against climate change and for a complete global re-think about democracy and capitalism. Even during the past few weeks, while in coronavirus lockdown with Andreas in their Clapham abode, the committed activist has been busily blogging and vlogging about the global pandemic being Mother Nature’s way of restoring the earth. And, of course, she’s not wearing some scruffy old trackie bottoms and slippers while she’s stuck at home -- she’s Dame Vivienne Westwood, FFS! Check out this vid, in which fashion’s most verdant campaigner keeps things glam, opining from her leafy garden in a gorgeous green gown and gargantuan heels. Preach!

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Punk
Vivienne Westwood
7 Iconic Outfits