Fashion Designer & Style Icon Vivienne Westwood Dies At 81

She was surrounded by her family in South London.

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Vivienne Westwood at her Spring-Summer 2020 show

British fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood has died at 81. According to a press statement from her eponymous label, Westwood passed away peacefully while surrounded by her family in Clapham, South London. “Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better,” read the release. “She led an amazing life. Her innovation and impact over the last 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.”

For those who followed the designer’s lustrous career, you’ll know that Westwood first emerged onto the fashion scene in the 1970s with her androgynous creations and irreverent attitude towards societal norms. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Westwood and her then design partner (and lover) Malcolm McLaren would make provocative pieces such as rubber dresses, bondage trousers (black pants with straps), and stilettos with spikes, sold via their little shop at 430 Kings Road in London to “those with underground sexual tastes.”

Their store underwent numerous name changes throughout the years, from Let It Rock to Sex to Seditionaries, which served as a telling sign of what one could expect from the duo. (According to CNN, Seditionaries once sold a T-shirt showing the Queen with a safety pin through the royal lip.) Other key looks from the two during this time period included torn-looking dresses and tops with metal chains. Westwood’s designs were favored by the likes of The Sex Pistols and the mass media went on to brand her as the leader of punk rock style.

Clothing from the Seditionaries boutique in 1977.Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Eventually, starting in the ‘80s, Westwood went on to do her own thing, separate from McLaren, with her Spring/Summer 1985 collection marking this turning point. It was here that she introduced the mini-crini, which combined the tutu and Victorian crinoline, and made corsetry work as outerwear. For the next two decades, Westwood also created collections that drew from classic artwork produced by the likes of Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher. This birthed her now iconic designs such as knitwear dresses and tartan miniskirts. Along the way, the designer ended up forging her own mini fashion empire given that she produced two menswear and three women’s wear collections annually as well as bridal, cosmetics, and perfumes. (Another pop culture reference that Sex and the City fans may know of is that Westwood is the designer behind Carrie Bradshaw’s ill-fated wedding gown.)

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Pool ARNAL/GARCIA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In addition to changing the world through fashion, Westwood was notably an outspoken activist and advocate for the planet. For example, during her Fall/Winter 2019-2022 show at London Fashion Week, she sent models down the runway with political signs like, “What’s good for the planet is good for the economy.” According to a press statement, to continue Westwood’s activist legacy, The Vivienne Foundation, a not-for-profit company founded by Westwood, her sons, and granddaughter in late 2022, will launch next year to “honor, protect, and continue the legacy of Vivienne’s life, design, and activism.”

Westwood is survived by her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler and her two children, Joseph Corré and Ben Westwood.