'Mother of Punk' and iconic fashion designer Vivienne Westwood dead at 81

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in 1977
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in June 1977 (Image credit: Daily Mirror / Bill Kennedy/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Legendary English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, whose iconic, subversive styling played a major role in creating a rebellious, non-conformist image for British punk rock in the 1970s, has died, aged 81. 

The clothes Westwood designed for SEX, the Chelsea boutique she ran alongside future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, were worn by the Pistols, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Adam and The Ants, and more: her signature designs - bondage trousers, ripped and pinned-up T-shirts, rubber tops, mohair jumpers - gave punk rock a provocative anti-fashion aesthetic, later co-opted by the mainstream fashion world. The Kings Road clothes shop, where John Lydon famously auditioned for the Sex Pistols by singing along to Alice Cooper's I'm Eighteen on the in-house jukebox, was later rebranded as Seditionaries: Clothes for Heroes. Toyah, Chrissie Hynde and Glen Matlock were among the musicians who formerly worked in the boutique.

“I don’t think punk would have happened without Vivienne and Malcolm,” Chrissie Hynde once stated.

Westwood's death was announced on social media earlier today (December 29).

“Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London,” a message posted on her official Twitter page read. “The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better.”

In later years, Westwood became one of the most famous and internationally- celebrated English fashion designers, creating bespoke pieces for supermodels and celebrities: she was awarded an OBE in 1992 and a DBE in 2006 for services to fashion.

“I was messianic about punk," Westwood told The Independent newspaper in 2002, “seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way. I realized there was no subversion without ideas. It’s not enough to want to destroy everything.”

The news of Westwood's passing has drawn tributes from across the music, arts and fashion worlds. On Twitter, Glen Matlock wrote: "I have just heard the sad news about a one off, single minded, talented lady. A privilege to have rubbed shoulders with her in the mid ‘70s at the birth of punk and the waves it created that still resound today for the disaffected. My thoughts are with her friends and family."

Garbage vocalist Shirley Manson called Westwood “a hero of mine”, accompanying the tweet with a broken-heart emoji. Boy George tweeted: “R.I.P to the great and inspiring Vivienne Westwood who lead us through punk and beyond. Laughed at by the fashion industry but without question she is the undisputed Queen of British fashion. I love you! Oh bondage up yours!”

Chrissie Hynde paid her own tribute, writing, “Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place. Love you Viv. Chrissie” while Billy Idol tweeted #VivienneWestwood RIP it will take me a bit to take this in…"

A tweet from indie record shop and record label Rough Trade saluted Westwood as the “Mother Of Punk" while a spokesperson/social media manager for London's Victoria and Albert Museum hailed the designer as “A true revolutionary and rebellious force in fashion.”

Fast-rising Yorkshire pop-punk star Yungblud also paid tribute in a Tweet, writing “you gave me the courage to express myself. you were the reason i left the house with the confidence to look the way i did. heartbroken. thank you for everythin, viv. RIP”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.