The mother of punk, Westwood had little patience for propriety or prudery, as evidenced by a famous picture in which she’s joined by Chrissie Hynde and shopgirl Jordan. All are standing with their backs to the camera, their bottoms painted with letters spelling out the name of the designer’s boutique, which in 1977 was called Sex. Fast forward 43 years and there’s Westwood showing lots of leg and exposing her pull-up stockings, this time without garters, in the spring/summer 2021 lookbook for the Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood collection.
These were conscious exposures; the designer’s most infamous reveal, in contrast, was presumably unplanned and took place in 1992 when Westwood went to Buckingham Palace to receive her OBE. She was dressed in a New Look-style suit, and when she took a turn for the cameras and the full skirt went flying, it became evident that she’d left her knickers at home.
Westwood’s style was not solely defined by exhibitionism, but she did wear her political agenda on her sleeve. An ardent activist, the designer had taken the slogan idea and gone wild with it: printing, knitting, and pinning manifestos on garments and accessories that function like pliable and portable sandwich boards.
An avid scholar of fashion history, with a particular fondness for the 18th century, Westwood attended galas in full-skirted gowns that could have walked out of the paintings of François Boucher or Franz Xaver Winterhalter. She might wrap such a dress with a shawl of her proprietary tartan; for the “Anglomania” exhibition at the Costume Institute in 2006 she was draped in the Union Jack and sported a dress of her own creation. Unlike many designers who take their bows in jeans and T-shirts, Westwood wore her own clothes on the catwalk and IRL.
Ultimately, Westwood became a sort of avatar of herself. It’s an idea that she played with by appearing in her own press materials. With Westwood, what you saw was what you got – pure fashion and signature style.