Dame Vivienne Westwood - punk fashion pioneer dies at 81, tributes to ‘undisputed Queen of British fashion’

The iconoclastic visionary fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood who was at the forefront of the 70s London punk scene has died at the age of 81

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Iconic fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, known for her pioneering work in the fashion industry, has died at the age of 81. A statement from her fashion house confirmed Westwood had died "peacefully and surrounded by her family" in London on Thursday evening.

A synonymous name with the punk movements in the 70s, Westwood rose to prominence in London, helming the store Let It Rock with Malcolm McLaren. It shortly thereafter became SEX Boutique - a flagship store in the King’s Road area of London that the punk scene became drawn to. Westwood’s transgressive style incorporated elements from the New York punk community with the seedy bondage scene to elicit shock and horror from a ‘no sex please’ British society.

It was at SEX Boutique also that many luminaries from the UK punk scene fraternised; the store became a fixture for the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux, Soo Catwoman and Pamela Rooke, known at the time as Jordan who also died earlier this year. The store also saw names such as Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, Sid Vicious and The Pretenders frontwoman Chrissy Hynde work part time there.

Considered one of the architects of punk fashion, Westwood’s iconic “Destroy” line of t-shirts became the uniform of choice for a number of budding punks, if the more extreme rubber and plastic works Visionary released were a bit much. Slits guitarist Viv Albertine once wrote in her biography that “Vivienne and Malcolm use clothes to shock, irritate and provoke a reaction but also to inspire change [...] these attitudes are reflected in the music we make. It’s OK to not be perfect, to show the workings of your life and your mind in your songs and your clothes.”

Despite her attitude towards the establishment, including her disdain towards “easy care coloured” fashion, she was given her damehood in 2006 for services towards fashion. She was also known as a staunch activist and brought causes she cared about, like climate change, to the catwalk.

‘Undisputed Queen of British Fashion’

Tributes have poured in from the fashion and music world after the announcement of Westwood’s death. Boy George, who first met the designer in the early 1980s, called her "great and inspiring" and "without question she is the undisputed Queen of British fashion."

Spice Girl Victoria Beckham said: "I’m so sad to learn of the passing of legendary designer and activist Dame Vivienne Westwood. My thoughts are with her family at this incredibly sad time." Supermodel Claudia Schiffer also wrote that Westwood’s "unique voice will be irreplaceable and will be missed", while the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses some of her works, described Westwood as a "true revolutionary and rebellious force in fashion".