How Fashion Is Continuing The Legacy Of Dame Vivienne Westwood

5 min read
@juergentellerstudio @doviledrizyte for @viviennewestwood

A pioneer who made an undeniable impact on the world of fashion, Dame Vivienne Westwood’s legacy continues to shine through on the SS23 catwalks, with punk-inspired collections that were made to be noticed

At the end of 2022, the fashion world lost one of its most loved and controversial fashion icons. From pioneering punk fashion in the mid ‘70s to dressing some of the world’s biggest stars, Dame Vivienne Westwood died at the age of 81, but not without leaving an unforgettable legacy in her wake. It seems fitting, then, that punk is back on the agenda this season, with the likes of Simone Rocha displaying punky tulle and Prabal Gurung opting for distressed denim on their SS23 catwalks — an unforeseen tribute to the ‘Queen of Punk’. “Vivienne Westwood taught us all about the anarchic attitude of fashion and that it should not be confined to formalities and institutions,” Tiffany Hsu, VP of fashion buying at Mytheresa tells MOJEH. “That we can speak our minds and celebrate individuality. Designers have brought that attitude back to the catwalks for SS23.”

Vivienne Westwood SS23

From lashings of leather and studs at Chanel and McQueen — “Sarah Burton is a standout designer for me when it comes to punk right now,” Poppy Lomax, head of superbrands and international designers at Harrods tells MOJEH — to all that pink hair at Thom Browne, plenty of Westwoodisms have been finding their way on to both the runways and the streets of late. Relatively new to the scene, Chopova Lowena and her kilt skirts are of particular note — attached by mountain climbing clips to a beefy leather belt, they have gone viral since their debut, with Dua Lipa, Madonna and model Ella Emhoff all spotted out and about in these recycled taffeta pleated wonders. As a staunch advocate of sustainability and climate change, it’s safe to say Dame Westwood would be proud.  “She reminded us of the freedom of fashion and how we can all express ourselves through what we wear,” adds Lomax. “She was a force that celebrated female silhouettes, playfulness, breaking down barriers and was never afraid to talk about the world’s most important topics — a true icon!”

Vivienne Westwood SS23

So, where did it all begin? Like many fashion movements, punk has its origin in a social and cultural moment, synonymous with anti-establishment ideals and a non- conformist wardrobe. Born around the ‘70s in Great Britain, punks wanted to free themselves from the established society, reject the ambient ‘peace and love’ pushed by the hippies of the ‘60s, and impose a new slogan: “no future”. The social momentum quickly became reflected in fashion and music, embodied by major personalities and flagship pieces. But while music had Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols, fashion had Vivienne Westwood (who just so happened to be in a relationship with the band’s manager, Malcom McLaren).  “Vivienne was the pioneer in bringing the music and fashion industries together in the ‘70s and this stayed true to her throughout her entire life and career,” explains Lomax.  Vivienne was quick to start selling her designs at Malcom McLaren’s King’s Road store, and she had soon revolutionised what was deemed appropriate to wear in public.  “Then there was her first shop, Let It Rock, which opened in the middle of the punk and new wave movement, a key moment for the era, as well as the starting point of the entire brand DNA,” adds Hsu.

Prabal Gurung SS23

While she started out with plenty of safety pins, chains and leather, by the ‘80s, her references opened up to include the likes of Old Master paintings, corsets and crinolines. And that is where her beauty lay. Rather than designing collections to suit that season’s trends, she designed collections that paid tribute to her own personal obsessions, be it pirates, witches or Watteau paintings.  “The Pirate collection was an absolute breakthrough for the brand,” explains Hsu. “It was her first proper fashion show in 1981, and those designs defined the brand and its House code.”  Think pirate hats, printed tunics and fall-down stockings, these were styles that were at the forefront of the early 1980s Neo-Romantic movement in fashion.

Thom Browne SS23

Vivienne had an ability to take the likes of tartan and Harris tweed and make them look rebellious. And that’s why all the biggest supermodels — from Carla Bruni and Kate Moss to Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell — all have a Westwood fashion moment cemented in history. In fact, when a then 23-year-old Naomi infamously toppled from her 12-inch heels at the designer’s 1993 show, it only made her more of a fashion icon in the process. And it wasn’t just her work, either — Westwood’s life was punk through and through. From warning us about climate change to supporting controversial figures like Julian Assange, not to mention the fact that very few women led their own independent brands at the time, she was a force to be reckoned with. “She was the queen of modernised punk, and throughout her career she kept her vision clear and consistent, which in turn created a very devoted customer,” adds Lomax. “From her personal life to the safety pins on tartan kilts, leather studs, metal embellishments and a play on mismatched fabrics, she was known for finding fun and playfulness and we have started to see this return to the runway this past season. One of the most prevalent reminders of Vivienne’s influence is through her true celebration of the female silhouette and her corsetry detailing with an edge which came through in many SS23 collections, and will most likely again for AW23.”

Vivienne Westwood SS23

Back to present day, and 2023’s punk is slightly more polished than seasons past. Think less metal chains and fewer spikes, it’s more likely to come married with smart heels, sleek blow dries and considered jewellery. That doesn’t go to say you’d look out of place in a pair of Dr. Martens though — this is a trend where anything goes.  “Mohair sweaters, tartan, leather and studs are all popular punk-inspired fabrics and materials this season,” adds Hsu. “But for a more toned down look, you can always just include a few hardwear accessories in your look such as belts or necklaces. But if the attitude doesn’t sit with you, don’t force the look. Punk is an individualistic attitude.” And that’s just how Dame Vivienne would have wanted it.

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  • Words by Naomi Chadderton