Vivienne Westwood: Chrissie Hynde and Paul McCartney lead tributes to fashion icon

Greenpeace calls designer a ‘true radical’ and Hynde says ‘the world is already a less interesting place’

Tributes have been paid to Dame Vivienne Westwood from across the worlds of fashion and design, and by others including figures from the environmental and political causes she supported.

The pioneering British fashion designer, who played a key role in the punk movement, died “peacefully, surrounded by her family” in Clapham, south London, on Thursday, her representatives said. She was 81.

Her husband and creative partner, Andreas Kronthaler, said: “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart. We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you darling.”

A statement issued by Westwood’s representatives said she had continued to do the things she loved until the last moment, including designing, working on her art and writing a book.

It added that the Vivienne Foundation, a not-for-profit company founded by Westwood, her sons and granddaughter in late 2022, would launch next year to “honour, protect and continue the legacy of Vivienne’s life, design and activism”.

Among those paying tribute was the Pretenders frontwoman, Chrissie Hynde, who worked at Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s boutique in punk’s early days. She said on Twitter: “Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place.”

Sir Paul McCartney said on Twitter: “Goodbye Vivienne Westwood. A ballsy lady who rocked the fashion world and stood defiantly for what was right. Love Paul x”.

Naomi Campbell, who famously toppled over while walking the runway in one of Westwood’s shows in platform heels, said Westwood was “the original queen of fashion”.

“Your strength was admirable in a business where it is dominated by men,” she wrote, adding that Westwood’s honesty “was to be valued whether we liked to hear it or not.”

Edward Enninful, editor-in-chief of British Vogue, described Westwood as “a true icon of British fashion and an irreplaceable force in the industry”, adding in an Instagram post: “Her legacy will live on.”

Jeff Banks, the Welsh fashion designer and TV presenter who was made a director of Westwood’s fashion company two weeks before her death, said: “This is a moment in history. Someone who forced fashion forward in a crucible of heat combined with an unswerving dedication to fairness, justice and the salvation of our planet.

“A true originator who will forever stand head and shoulders above her contemporaries and take her place forever in the highest echelons of her craft.”

Addressing Westwood in an Instagram post, the American fashion designer Marc Jacobs said he was “heartbroken”, adding: “You did it first. Always. Incredible style with brilliant and meaningful substance … Rest in peace dear Vivienne, although, somehow peace seems like the wrong word.”

Boy George, the British singer and songwriter, said on Twitter that Westwood had taken the lead “through punk and beyond”.

“Laughed at by the fashion industry but without question she is the undisputed queen of British fashion. I love you! Oh bondage up yours!” he added.

There was also recognition of Westwood’s long-running involvement in environmental activism. In the mid-2000s she turned her political focus towards the climate crisis.

Greenpeace, which she had worked with, described her as a “true radical” as well as “a force of nature and a titan of the fashion world”.

“Vivienne’s commitment to making a better world through her environmental activism was inspirational,” Will McCallum, the co-executive director of Greenpeace UK, said.

“She saw the urgency of the climate crisis with clarity and demanded action with passion. If we could all live this ideal, the world would be a better place.”

Others recalled Westwood’s appearance in the turret of a tank that was driven in 2015 to the then prime minister David Cameron’s home in Oxfordshire in a protest against fracking. Friends of the Earth said she had been “a redoubtable opponent of fracking and her role in supporting and invigorating the movement in the UK was absolutely invaluable”.

Jack Monroe, the writer and anti-poverty campaigner, said: “She was at the forefront of climate change campaigning, gender-neutral fashion designs, a psephologist of activism, purveyor of the only dresses my weird little misshapen body has ever felt alive and at home in.”

Describing Westwood as “a rebel at heart”, Stella Assange said the wedding dress given to her by the designer for her wedding to Julian Assange inside Belmarsh prison this year had taken the event “to the next level”.

Westwood had been a prominent supporter of the WikiLeaks founder and suspended herself in a birdcage in 2020 to protest against US attempts to extradite him from the UK.

“Her gift to us took our wedding to the next level so there was a lot of attention and she just had this incredible talent for visuals and for messaging,” added Assange.

Born in the Derbyshire village of Tintwistle in 1941, Westwood moved with her family to London in 1957, where she attended art school for one term. A self-taught designer, she learned how to make clothes as a teenager by following patterns and by taking apart secondhand clothes from markets to understand the cut and construction.

She met McLaren, a band manager, in the 1960s while working as a primary school teacher after separating from her first husband, Derek Westwood. The pair opened a small shop on Kings Road in Chelsea in 1971 that became a haunt of many of the bands she dressed, including the Sex Pistols, who were managed by McLaren.

Since her earliest punk days, Westwood remixed and inverted imagery drawn from the British monarchy. When she was granted an Order of the British Empire medal in 1992, the designer wore a sober grey skirt suit to accept the honour from Queen Elizabeth II. Outside Buckingham Palace, she gave a twirl to photographers, revealing to all the world that she had worn no knickers.

Westwood was invited back in 2006 to receive the even more auspicious designation of Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Westwood wrote regularly on climate and social justice on her website No Man’s Land. Last month she made a statement of support for the climate protesters who threw soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, writing: “Young people are desperate. They’re wearing a T-shirt that says: Just Stop Oil. They’re doing something.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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