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Fashion Meets Music: The Mother of Punk – Vivienne Westwood


Dame Vivienne Westwood

Dame Vivienne Westwood

London Fashion Week is in full swing and who better to spotlight this week than the Dame of British Fashion, Vivienne Westwood. Or simply, Queen Viv.

Over the years 430 Kings Road in London has been remodeled and renamed five times. It happened four times in the ’70’s alone; results of Dame Vivienne Westwood and partner, Malcolm McLaren‘s wild new ideas. In 1971, McLaren, opened the storefront, Let It Rock, the shop specialized in second-hand clothing, ’50’s rock & roll records, and Teddy Boy fashions which Westwood designed.

Just one year later, the store changed direction and re-opened as Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die. For two years the store stocked ’60’s “rocker” clothing, Zoot suits, and records. They closed the store again to reappear in 1974, rebranding itself as the now iconic, SEX boutique. It was here, a store with unmistakeable hot pink plastic letters above the doorway, that Vivienne Westwood introduced London to her outrageous “anti-fashions” and went on to define the punk movement in the UK. SEX boutique was known for its fetish and bondage wear, slashed-up subversive t-shirts, and clothing riddled with safety pins. It was like no other place in the world. The interior was covered in graffiti and rubber curtains were draped on the walls. English musician, Adam Ant, called it “one of the all-time greatest shops in history.”

Urban Outfitters: Employees at the shop included Chrissie Hynde and Sid Vicious

Urban Outfitters: Employees at the shop included Chrissie Hynde and Sid Vicious

McLaren, a savvy purveyor of talent at the right moment, wanted to create a rock & roll act that would embody the spirit of the store. Part-time SEX employee, Glen Matlock was already in a band with Paul Cook and Steve Jones. He let McLaren know that they were looking for a singer. Johnny Lydon was a crude character that would hang around the SEX store jukebox. Lydon, who never sung before, was invited to audition and snagged the role as lead singer. The Sex Pistols were formed. Shortly thereafter, Matlock left to join a different band and John Richie (Sid Vicious) came in to replace him.

Even though the Sex Pistols produced only four singles and one studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, they are regarded as one of the most influential bands in the history of music. The Bromley Contingent was a name, given by a journalist, of the fans who would follow the Sex Pistols and helped popularize the fashions. This included Billy Idol, Siouxsie Sioux, and Adam Ant. They inspired rebel bands of the ’70’s like the Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks, and X-Ray Spex.

Sid Vicious, Pretender’s singer Chrissie Hynde, and punk fashion pioneer, Jordan, worked as a shop assistants.

The Sex Pistols inspired many bands like The Clash and Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees

The Sex Pistols inspired many bands like The Clash and Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees

In 1976 the store changed it’s name to Seditionaries. During this time Vivienne began to work with tartan prints, pin-stripes, and corduroy. Parachute shirts and bondage suits were among the designs that Westwood began to produce. The store faltered after the demise of the short-lived Sex Pistols. Seditionaries closed in the autumn of 1978 and remained closed until 1980.

In 1980, 430 Kings Road went from being on the “wrong end” of the street outfitting some of the most audacious figures in music to the World’s End. Today, the facade of World’s End includes a giant clock with arms that spin backwards. The space was intended to resemble a curiosity shop and an 18th century galleon. The store carries a limited collection of specialty items, one offs, show samples, and accessories from one of the most influential fashion designers.

Vivienne Westwood was designing for a niche market in the ’70’s but proved her technical skill with her 1981 ‘Pirate’ collection, her first runway show in London. Although her work was featured in magazines and street style sections the world over, Westwood has yet to receive mainstream recognition. Soon after the success of the ‘Pirate’ collection and the subsequent Savage (s/s 1982), Buffalo (a/w 1982-3), and Punkature (s/s 1983). A deal with Giorgio Armani was announced. That along with significant financial backing the Westwood label was ready for global marketing and branding.

Today the Vivienne Westwood brand umbrella covers her Gold Label (couture), Red Label (ready-to-wear), Vivienne Westwood Men, and Anglomania collections.

Vivienne Westwood and Gwen Stefani

Vivienne Westwood and Gwen Stefani

The Westwood signature style mixes unconformity with historicism and experimentation. Tartans, pin stripes, and heavy draping are mainstays in her collections, proving that the punk roots are still there. Over the years they have been parlayed into couture-worthy garments. Westwood  is considered the Designers Fashion Designer and continues to outfit the fashion forward of the music industry. Singer turned designer, Gwen Stefani, fittingly sang “I’d buy everything/Clean out Vivienne Westwood/In my Galliano gown,” in the ’04 hit song “Rich Girl.”

Westwood’s Manifesto, ACTIVE RESISTANCE, encourages all intellectuals in the fight against propaganda, an issue that Westwood addresses regularly on her AR website.

Listen to a mp3 audio clip of an interview Westwood did with The Guardian in which she discusses concern for the contemporary art and culture.

Check out Queen Viv representing in good form at last night’s AW 2010 runway show in London.

Fun Fact: Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s son, Joesph Corre is the co-founder of luxury lingerie brand, Agent Provocateur.


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