Remembering Dame Vivienne Westwood: Industry Figures Share Memories of the Queen of British Fashion

LONDON WWD’s legendary late publisher and editorial director John B. Fairchild described Vivienne Westwood as a “designer’s designer” and her peers certainly agree.

Designers and fashion industry figures have been paying tribute to Westwood, who died Thursday at age 81, describing her not only as an iconoclast but as a great teacher and role model.

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Fairchild considered Westwood one of the world’s six greatest designers, along with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Emanuel Ungaro and Christian Lacroix.

Westwood signed a seven-year licensing agreement with Giorgio Armani in 1984 that gave the Italian designer exclusive rights to her name. But no clothes were ever produced under the agreement and in 1987 Westwood actually sued Armani for failing to pay her. No matter, Armani on Friday told WWD: “I have an indelible image of Vivienne Westwood in mind: I remember her on the cover of Tatler, decked like Margaret Thatcher, she who had been the queen of punk, in an ironic portrait that went around the world. There was so much humor and so much culture in her work, which was always so irreverent yet so rigorous, so full of history yet always innovative. I’ve long admired her ability to harmonize extremes, the respect for the past and the lack of nostalgia, and then that sharp, very elegant British flicker. Fashion loses a true revolutionary.”

Riccardo Tisci x Vivienne Westwood Collaboration for Burberry
Riccardo Tisci x Vivienne Westwood collaboration for Burberry.

Riccardo Tisci, who collaborated with Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler for a Burberry capsule collection in 2018, recalled being exposed to the designer’s work in his very early days of being a student in London.

“Her influence was everywhere: on the streets, in the clubs, in my college corridors. The tartan, the graphics, the styling — her work and more importantly her approach and attitude were unlike anything I’d seen before: rebellious, fiercely honest and disruptive, yet romantic somehow at the same time. She influenced me in so many ways, not only then but as I continue my journey as a designer,” Tisci said.

“It was of the greatest honors to have worked and spent time with her more recently. I was so touched by her creative generosity, humor, warmth and tireless strive to improve the world she lived in, and her encouragement of those around her to do the same. A punk with a heart of gold, Dame Vivienne leaves an incredibly unique imprint in fashion and beyond, and will be greatly missed as the unrivaled Queen of Fashion,” he added.

“I first met Vivienne in September 1976 at the lesbian club Louise’s in London’s Poland Street, the only club to allow us punks entrance. It was the end of the evening and after blasting Siouxsie and the Banshees, the last dance was curiously, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ by Stevie Wonder. Suddenly Vivienne and I were alone on the dance floor. She asked what I did, I replied I was a fashion student at Saint Martins. She looked horrified, then I trod on her foot with my stiletto, not a great start,” said British milliner Stephen Jones.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME. MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTO BY DAVE M. BENETT/GETTY IMAGES REQUIRED)  Inspiration of the Year winner Dame Vivienne Westwood (L) and Stephen Jones pose at the Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards 2012, in association with Estee Lauder, Harrods and Tiffany & Co., at Claridge's Hotel on October 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)
Vivienne Westwood and Stephen Jones in 2012.

“There is no one more influential than Vivienne on late 20th- and 21st-century fashion. Without Vivienne there is no Rei [Kawakubo], no John [Galliano], no Lee McQueen nor a hundred other designers nor a million punks around the world for who she was and is, the Queen of Fashion. I remember distinctly the vindication I felt when John Fairchild voted her as one of the top six designers of the world, as Condé Nast nor Hearst never featured her, they viewed her as a bit of an embarrassment. She visited my showroom many times to talk about culture, prints, silhouettes, even hats. I made mini crinnies backstage and she was a familiar figure on her bicycle as she was a close neighbor in Clapham,” Jones added.

“I had the honor of collaborating with her many times, from the tweed crown in 1987 through many hats along the way, although Prudence, not I, was her primary milliner. But the truth is I will always collaborate with Vivienne as she is forever the backdrop for my design life.”

Christian Lacroix acknowledged his profound debt to Westwood, whom he got to know in the ’90s when at the request of WWD’s legendary publisher and editorial director John B. Fairchild, he selected his favorite designers from Great Britain, Italy and the United States for a tour of Japan, where they showed their collections and attended lectures and parties.

“I, of course, chose Vivienne with Franco Moschino and Isaac Mizrahi,” he said, recalling the “shock” of her World’s End boutique on King’s Road.

“I don’t know if without her I would have made such historicist collections as naturally. Her radicality, her audacity, vigilance and intelligence made her the ‘mother’ of all designers not only in London and Paris, but elsewhere,” he said via email.

“What I’ve always said and repeat today with more conviction, even affection and with almost solemnity, is that without her we wouldn’t exist. She gave an extraordinary impulse to the styles of the ‘80s and ‘90s, not only in appearance and surface […] but in depth,” Lacroix said.

Her design aesthetic “has opened up paths in which we may not have dared to venture without it. With it, fashion has become a political manifesto, for the very first time I think, without losing any of its aesthetic, creative, innovative power,” he added.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF THE VUITTON MONOGRAM FABRIC (Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Christian Lacroix and Vivienne Westwood in 1996.

“I have always really admired Vivienne for her work and impact in fashion and beyond. She was a true force of ideas, creativity and political vision. She will be missed,” said Miuccia Prada.

“A radical who never conformed. Rebellious to the core. A pioneer, she harnessed the power of fashion to advocate for change. Much respect. My thoughts are with her family, friends and those who love her,” added Raf Simons.

Young British fashion designer Matty Bovan said: “I first met Vivienne when I was 16 or 17 at a charity fashion show she was doing in Liverpool — I was such a huge fan (I do have a photo somewhere), she looked incredible in real life and seeing her work changed my life. She never stopped inspiring me and I believe she always will in the future. Her legacy is immense in the world. I am really at a loss for words of how much both Vivienne and her work meant to and what they represented.”

Bovan had the opportunity to walk in a Vivienne Westwood show and forged a relationship with the designer and her partner Kronthaler over the years.

“I was lucky enough to speak to Vivienne quite a lot over the times we met and she gave me a lot of advice which I cherish dearly. Such a generous and smart person — a real person in every way. Being someone from the north of England, I can attest that Vivienne always spoke to young people growing up and wanting to self express — she made fashion and creative fashion so accessible and exciting, beyond the boundaries of class. She inspired so many people who didn’t fit in growing up, myself 100 percent in that category. I am heartbroken,” Bovan added.

“When her studio was in Camden in the early ’90s, she popped in to say hello while her son Joe Corré was helping me on my buying appointment for Browns, when I was a buyer for young designers; we were the first store to buy Vivienne Westwood outside her own stores, which was a big gear shift for her, and she came into the appointment to ask how everything was and ‘Are we doing it all right as we’ve never done it before?’ She was incredibly humble, used to send me little gifts with notes like ‘I’m so happy with how this constellation scarf has turned out, I wanted you to have one of the first ones’ and would cycle to South Molton Street wearing bicycle clips to come and see her windows at Browns, always chatty,” said Mandi Lennard, founder of creative consultancy Mandi’s Basement.

“I remember buying a really expensive cardigan with holes all over it for Browns; it had a red crown neckline hand-painted with gold — I bought an indigo one (for me) and the other one in khaki chenille was snapped up by the wardrobe person for a new TV show called ‘Absolutely Fabulous.’ Every young designer I’ve ever worked with hero-worshiped her: Kim Jones, Gareth Pugh, Matty Bovan,” Lennard added.

On Instagram, Marc Jacobs wrote: “You did it first. Always. Incredible style with brilliant and meaningful substance.”

Donna Karan said, “I am so so sad to hear. Vivienne Westwood was one of a kind. Brilliant, a true designer like no other. Her stature, her creations, her love for fashion. She defines a true designer.”

Pamela Anderson, who starred in the brand’s 2017 spring campaign, praised the designer’s shared commitment to activism.

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 28:   Pamela Anderson and Dame Vivienne Westwood attend the Andreas Kronthaler For Vivienne Westwood Womenswear Spring/Summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on September 28, 2019 in Paris, France.  (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Pamela Anderson with Vivienne Westwood in 2019.

“I continue to learn from your words, and all of your extraordinary creations. I will always remember the night we bonded over our mutual love for Yves Saint Laurent. You never failed to surprise and to shock. I am grateful for the moments I got to share with you and Andreas,” Anderson said.

“It has not set in yet, my ribs ache, a lump in my throat, the Angel of Democracy. So many memories, conversations that inspired me and many others to do better. I have had the good fortune to have such a wild and wonderful, supportive friend in Vivienne.  A ‘see-er’ — she saw and understood things so clearly. The boys and I will miss her.

“Andreas carries the torch, but is his own creative, of course. She was always so amazed by him. I’ve never seen such admiration between partners. I love you Andreas. I love you Vivienne always, forever more. You are here. Your legacy, your passion for planet earth, your vision lives on. Intellectuals unite. Climate revolution. We will never give up the fight. We all must fight till the end, like you.”

FIT’s Valerie Steele said via email Thursday that Westwood had a huge impact on the world of fashion. “She was not only the high priestess of punk, she also pioneered the radical combination of historic references and contemporary subcultures, often doing research in the dress collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Galliano and McQueen were definitely influenced by her, but so was Christian Lacroix.”

Tommy Hilfiger said, “Vivienne and Malcolm McLaren were behind the punk rock scene in London in the ’70s with the Sex Pistols. It was a powerful fashion music revolution at the time. I visited their store on Kings Road in the early ’70s. It was an exciting and memorable experience I’ll never forget. This inspired me to open a punk rock shop in 1974 called The Underground in the basement of my store, People’s Place. Vivienne was a visionary, a force and a committed activist. Her legacy as a trailblazer is indisputable.”

Andrew Burnstine, associate professor at Lynn University’s College of Business and Management, who is the grandson of Martha’s founder and chairwoman Martha Phillips, said, “Martha discovered Vivienne through the buying office we had in London at the time. Her first show was a tremendous hit. I always remember the incredible Elizabethan gowns coming down the runway, with models draped in pearl necklaces, flowing trains of lace infused with flowers and elegant trimming. There were mirrors on the walls and sconce lighting illuminated the entire area. I thought I was a part of a royal wedding, or ceremony, awaiting the final entrance of Elizabeth I.

“Martha, Lynn [Manulis, Phillips’ daughter] and I went to the showroom a day or two after the show. Vivienne was there and greeted us with her resounding English voice. She proceeded to assist her sales team explaining the collection, and also gave us an incredible fashion history as well, discussing the  importance of fashion and the Elizabethan era. I will never forget her meticulous eye, her dedication to detail, and what I learned about the history of fashion from who has become for over five decades the ‘voice’ of fashion for this century. Vivienne did do a trunk show with us in New York during her second year in business. It was a huge success. Customers were lining up to try on some of the gowns that were a part of the trunk show collection. Martha’s took a lot of orders, and when the clothes were delivered months later, they fit to perfection.

“And now, as a professor of fashion, when I talk about Vivienne Westwood with my students, I mention the fact that there is perhaps no other designer of our lifetime who has created fashion from so many different eras and times. From Elizabethan to the Priestess of Punk, her ‘circular’ fashion looks have linked the past, present and the future. As Vivienne so aptly stated, ‘Fashion is life-enhancing, and I think it is a lovely generous thing to do for other people.’ And by all accounts, she has definitely achieved her goal.”

Julie Gilhart, chief development officer, Tomorrow Ltd. and president, Tomorrow Projects, who was previously senior vice president, fashion director at Barneys New York, said, “She was the queen. She influenced so many up-and-coming designers and will continue to. She took risks that others would never do and was an early activist for the planet and forever continued to wave the green flag. She never lost her youthful approach and passion. Her legacy is vast and will continue to inspire future generations.”

Describing Westwood as “a true original and game changer in so many ways,” Michael Kors recalled Thursday meeting her in Scotland at a fashion event in the early ’90s. “I was taken with her wit, intelligence and sharp humor,” Kors said.

He continued, “Her influences ran the gamut from the street and music to historical references, and she always delivered in her own inimitable style. From punk to corsets to platforms, her vision changed the way women dressed and saw themselves. Her influence will continue to inspire generations to come.”

“Vivienne Westwood has reshaped the codes of clothing and created a unique style, with as much talent as conviction. A major figure of Paris Fashion Week, she was also a pioneer of sustainable fashion,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.

Pascal Morand, executive president of the FHCM, said, “Vivienne Westwood was a major fashion designer, which she seamlessly blended with music during the rise of the punk movement. She has consistently and gracefully married irreverence with the sense of responsibility.”

Stella McCartney shared a personal anecdote of Westwood on Instagram, saying, “I remember sitting with her for hours at Juergen Teller’s birthday dinner as she gently analysed the corner of the table cloth, folding it with precision like Japanese origami…I realized she was creating a tiny pattern and designing a zero-waste object, with little challenge. She was a genius.”

“Dame Vivienne was a maverick in every sense of the word. Unorthodox, independent minded and highly original in all that she touched. Someone whose orbit was so outside of trends and mediocrity. True to her passions be it radically provocative, political or environmental issues,” said Clare Waight Keller over email.

“I was once at an event with her in London where she spoke boldly, at great length and was quite controversial with her comments on people and fashion! You couldn’t take your eyes off her, she was captivating. She was hilarious, never predicable and often completely on point.

“She inspired people to really think about capitalism and its huge impact on the climate. She saw the impact first hand. She was an incredible force for women in fashion, using both sex and romanticism with equal deft, herself a fierce dresser always a trailblazer, surprising and unique. She lived and breathed her brand to the core.

“I walk past her iconic store almost every day on the King’s Road, I live very close by, all her iconic pieces from the pirate boots, orb necklaces, platform shoes and radical t-shirts that are below the huge landmark rewinding clock face in the shelves of the window, look as relevant today as they did when she designed them.”

“I’m a child of the ’70s, so I used to go into ‘Seditionaries’, ‘Sex’ and ‘World’s End’ a lot. Back in those days I managed a punk band, I think we all pretty much dressed from there,” said Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm Model Management.

“We were often invited to things and I remember being at one dinner at Tracy Worcester’s house (founder of Farms Not Factories). She really wanted to save pigs from factory farming in Europe, and I went to help raise awareness. Vivienne was also there, and she cycled home at midnight around Hype Park Corner,” added Doukas.

Westwood visited Doukas’ offices again when she was working on her Cool Earth movement which Storm donated to. “Storm gets asked to support a lot of worthwhile causes, and we have a responsibility to be aware about the environment. We all felt strongly about this because Vivienne was so passionate, informed and committed to raising money and awareness. I remember her coming in a few days later to thank us, and she remembered every one of my staffs name, if you can believe it, which is actually extraordinary.”

Doukas recalled a funny encounter her husband Tim Garner had with Westwood at a wedding. “My husband was sitting with her and he’d never met her before. They had an amazing conversation about socialism, the environment, and good jokes. At one point, she looked up and asked Tim, ‘Which is the bride’s mother?’ and Tim said, ‘The one in beige.’ And Vivienne said, ‘Beige?’ Tim, who is a creative director, immediately got that it didn’t resonate with Vivienne, he went, ‘Oh, taupe,’ to which she responded back with, ‘Oh taupe, that’s better.’ Vivienne had such a great sense of humor,” said Doukas on the phone.

“Dame Vivienne Westwood’s spirit, tenacity and legacy must live on,” said model Erin O’Connor, adding that she was “an incomparable human being who possessed such power and purpose in her lifetime which she shared the world over with relentless fortitude. We owe it to her memory and future generations to continue her vital work.”

Erdem Moralioglu remembered Westwood as an “an inspiration, a pioneer and a legend. Her studio was the only place I ever did a work placement, over 20 years ago, it was an amazing time and I will remember her always.”

“I knew Vivienne and she was really extraordinary and unique, an absolute genius in fashion and not only – she drove fashion to become the bearer of a social disruptive message, of true change breaking all the classic criteria to reaffirm new ones. She revolutionized the concept of fashion adding a social value it never had before,” said Carlo Capasa, chairman of Italy’s Camera della Moda.

“She was an authentic activist who created a unique language made of respect for the planet and for the human diversities before anyone else would talk about them, which she brought forward with a strong voice. She has been and is the essence of contemporary fashion and embodies it,” he added.

Les couturiers Jean Paul Gaultier et Vivienne Westwood lors d'un défilé de mode en juillet 1992 à Paris, France. (Photo by Pool ARNAL/PICOT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood in 1992.

“The British Queen of punk fashion left us yesterday. She brought tradition and revolution together in the most perfect way: God bless the Fashion Queen!” Jean Paul Gaultier said in an Instagram post on Friday.

“England has lost two sovereigns in a row,” agreed French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, who first met Westwood and McLaren in 1972.

“I was making clothes with textile waste, things like mops and blankets, and I was a little isolated in my ‘anti-fashion’ universe. I went to London and I met Vivienne and Malcolm on King’s Road. It was right at the start of their career and we ended up having a lot in common. We quickly established a bond,” he recalled via telephone.

“We were all crazy about music, and after that we remained friends. There was something very inspiring to me about Vivienne’s initial approach. It helped me to understand that fashion was also a manifesto, that it could channel anger, commitment and values.  That was really at the root of her work,” de Castelbajac said.

Later on, they connected over their shared love of history and 18th century artists like Boucher and Fragonard. “She was a very faithful friend,” said de Castelbajac, noting that Westwood regularly showed up for his events, including the opening of “The People of Tomorrow” children’s exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris in September 2021.

“I can still see her playing hopscotch with the same enthusiasm as a child,” he said. “There was something very touching about her that made Vivienne ageless, and it’s the reason she was popular with every generation. It was also her commitment to causes as varied as the environment, or Julian Assange, and her awareness of the importance of transmission.”

De Castelbajac noted that Westwood succeeded him as professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. “That’s where she met one of my talented students, Andreas Kronthaler, who became her husband and also her successor, in a way. It’s quite exceptional that she had the time to train Andreas and to pass on to him her vision,” he said.

Fashion designers Donatella Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Jil Sander pose and smile at an event in New York where they receieved "Fashion Legend" awards (Photo by Nick Machalaba/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Donatella Versace with Vivienne Westwood and Jil Sander.

Donatella Versace took to Instagram to share a black and white photo of her with Westwood and Jil Sander. “Vivienne was an iconic pioneer in Fashion and its greatest Punk. She broke all of the establishment rules to make clothes that spoke of independence, rebellion and power. She gave generations of young people new codes to express themselves,” she wrote.

“Vivienne continually inspired me as one of the few leading women in our industry. She was never afraid, she never took no for an answer, her vision was pure and unfiltered. Vivienne taught us all so much. She always will,” Versace added.

Pierpaolo Piccioli praised Westwood’s attitude on Instagram by saying, “Punk has no gender, no specific requests no attributes of sorts. If there is one thing that punk has taught me, is the deflagrating power of self, accepting and welcoming the risk of not being liked or understood. So punk is a way of thinking and looking and, ultimately, embracing what is different, unconventional, loud and free. All of that and so much more, was spread all over the world by Dame Vivienne Westwood, who shook the entire fashion system by simply putting her fierce freedom before anything else.”

“She showed to all of us that being disruptive and smart and graceful at the same time is the punkiest thing that one could do,” he added.

Fausto Puglisi, creative consultant of Roberto Cavalli, defined her as “a royal” and “the first punk.”

“She delivered freedom, breaking all the boundaries. She was life, love, sex, a beautiful orgy of visions. She was able to paint all the contrasts, dialoguing together in perfect harmony.…Squeezed breasts, Versailles corsets, boudoir scents and latex.…She was fearless. Nobody like her, [she was] able to modernize the old laws of couture, the real one…translating that impossible engineering itself in desire and power. And make it real! High culture and counterculture, both at the same time. She advocated for human rights, animal rights, climate change and, again, freedom. She taught us so much. We all owe her so much,” said Puglisi.

The historian and dramatist Ian Kelly, who cowrote Vivienne Westwood’s official autobiography, said his affection for, and admiration of, her grew “exponentially” during the process.

Kelly said Westwood taught him many things, including to “look for the beauty. In everything. In every moment. And everyone. It is easy to forget in the midst of her vital work in activism that she was also one of the most influential designers of modern fashion history, frequently cited as the woman who, singly, has had more impact on how we dress and how we think about clothes than anyone else today.”

Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said Westwood’s “rebellious style and constant reinvention kept her at the forefront of the fashion industry for decades. We are honored to house so many items from her collections — they will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations to come.”

The V&A has had a long-standing relationship with Westwood throughout her career. The museum presented the designer’s first retrospective in 2004, and houses hundreds of items relating to Westwood’s career, including key ensembles and materials dating from her early collaborations with Malcolm McLaren to the founding of her fashion house to the present day.

Several ensembles are on display in the V&A South Kensington’s Fashion Gallery, and in V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries.

“Coming to my debut Paris show in 2012 was everything…a total surprise and absolute honor. Seeing her catwalk show in 1980 was life changing, realizing that fashion could be like this allowed me to utilize my ability to sew gloriously ignited by her unorthodox approach it inspired me to also become a self-taught no-rules-philosophy fashion designer,” said Pam Hogg in an Instagram post.

Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at University of Westminster, said, “Last night, I was thinking about all the people who would not have gone into fashion if it hadn’t been for Vivienne. If you were a working-class kid growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vivienne was an absolute inspiration who made you believe you, too, could be a part of that world.

“She demonstrated that you didn’t have to come from the ‘right’ family or attend the ‘right’ school or college; you could do it on your own terms. Without her we wouldn’t have had Galliano or McQueen, or the thousands of other over the last 40 years that she inspired to be creative and in her words ‘to get a life’.”

Launch Gallery: Vivienne Westwood Dies at 81: Images Through the Years

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