Vivienne Westwood: Blazing Trails in Fashion Design

by Jessica Santina
Fashion School Review Columnist

October 2, 2008

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The wedding gown she designed for the Sex and the City film, and the red cocktail gown that Kim Cattrall wore to the film's premiere, may have been your first encounter with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. But she is among the fashion world's most subversive, and most celebrated of designers.

Westwood, who was never formally trained in fashion design, was born to a shoemaker father and a mother who worked in a cotton mill. She began her career as an elementary school teacher, which she did for one year before marrying and becoming a mother. That's when she began making jewelry and selling it on the streets of London.

It was here that her work would change the face of clothing design.

Clothing Design Goes Punk
When Westwood met Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, in the early 1970s, they formed one of fashion's most important partnerships. Their rebel sensibilities led them to challenge the status quo with shocking and unexpected clothing designs, which they sold in their punk boutique, "Let It Rock" in Chelsea. Although it went through several incarnations--"Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die," "Sex," "Seditionaries," and "World's End"--its merchandise made zippers, safety pins, leather, rubber and chains the symbols for a generation.

The Art of Reinvention
Westwood once said of her designs, "My aim is to make the poor look rich and the rich look poor." Although her interest in punk waned, to be replaced by romantic, history-inspired pieces that became her calling card, Westwood gained respect from the fashion world by turning convention on its ear.

Westwood's success offers valuable lessons to aspiring fashion designers. First, fashion isn't about following trends, it's about leading them. Westwood's desire to experiment, regardless of what others said, helped her to change the face of fashion.

Second, fashion designers are constantly reinventing themselves. In this business, risks may not always pay off. But without taking some, you might not get noticed at all.

About the Author
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer with a background in media and marketing. She also teaches first-year writing courses at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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