I walked into Let It Rock, looking for a pair of brothel creepers. I’d been in there a bit too long and some guy says: “Can I help you?” I said I was looking for work. I’d been fired from my part-time job in the trouser department at Whiteley’s. He told me to call Malcolm and Vivienne. That’s how I started out in the shop. They probably thought I was just some straight kid, which I was.
A month or two later, I asked Vivienne to ask Malcolm if he’d give me a reference for art college. She said: “Really? I don’t think you’d want to ask Malcolm because he’s been thrown out of every college in London.” Straightaway I was more interested in them and they were more interested in me.
That summer, McLaren and Westwood turned the shop into Sex. They were fed up with the rightwing mentality of the teddy boys and I helped with the sign outside. I’d learned how to silk-screen, so they asked me to do two images: a big red baseball player with a massive dick and another of two cowboys with their willies touching. I said I’d give it a go. It took too long and Vivienne got all dogmatic, saying I was trying to censor her work when I wasn’t at all. If you got on her wrong side, she’d let you know.
About then, Steve (Jones) and Paul (Cook) started coming in. It was my job to keep an eye on them. They were trying to get a band together and I overheard them saying they needed a bass player. So that’s how it started.
A lot of people think Vivienne and Malcolm made all the clothes but they didn’t – they provided a base where we all met. The hippest place in London on a Saturday afternoon, where every oddball and weirdo congregated. We gravitated there for our own reasons, a mishmash of people who went on to do something. And Vivienne was like the madam of a belle epoque salon. I don’t think she did it deliberately. She picked up on things, such as when John [Lydon] came in with a safety pin through his ear.
Whatever she did, she did with real artisanship and craft. If something came back from Mr Green in the East End with a seam in the wrong place, Vivienne was on it. She used tailoring to get her ideas across, to turn what you were supposed to look like on its head. She was always at the V&A or the Wallace Collection. She was into the conflict of ideas and knew what she wanted to do.
She was one of the first vegetarians I met. Yet when I got chicken, she’d take the bones home to boil and sew on to T-shirts. They’d had the shop less than a year when I turned up and were still trying to work out what they wanted to do. It’s amazing now. There’s a Vivienne Westwood flagship store in Shanghai and go to Harajuku in Tokyo and the girls are dressed in Westwood. From chicken bones to head of a fashion empire: it’s only by sticking out that you get lasting acclaim and to have continual success is hard. She did it. I’m not sure we’ll see the likes of her again.
• Glen Matlock was the bass player for Sex Pistols
• Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org