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Fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood dies aged 81

Tom Shearsmith
29 December 2022

Dame Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer and businesswoman, has died at the age of 81.

The news was first confirmed by the official twitter account for the eponymous brand. The news read: "Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London. The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better."

Westwood previously studied at the Harrow School of Art and the University of Westminster, taking courses in fashion and silver-smithing, but left after one term. She is quoted as having said: "I didn't know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world."

She came to public notice around 1974 when she made clothes for the boutique that she co-ran on King's Road, which became known as SEX. The boutique specialised in clothing that took inspiration from BDSM and defined the look of the punk movement, which Westwood was largely responsible for bringing into the mainstream.

Westwood later opened four shops in London and eventually expanded throughout Britain and the world, selling a varied range of merchandise, some of which promoted her political causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, climate change and various civil rights groups.

In 1992, Westwood was awarded an OBE, which she collected from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. At the ceremony, she notably wore nothing but sheer tights with a reinforced bikini top under her skirt.

Westwood later advanced from OBE to DBE in the 2006 New Year's Honours List "for services to fashion", and has twice earned the award for British Designer of the Year.

She was presented with the Swarovski Award for Positive Change at The Fashion Awards in 2018. The special award celebrated individuals who have made a positive impact on society, the environment or both, and forms part of Swarovski’s efforts to promote a more sustainable future. Previous recipients include the late Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani, and Dior Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri.

To celebrate her 80th Birthday, Westwood was commissioned by CIRCA, an art platform founded in 2020, to present a new video work on the Piccadilly Lights screen in Piccadilly Circus London. In the ten-minute film created with her brother, the fashion icon performed a rewritten rendition of "Without You" from My Fair Lady to offer a stark warning of societal indifference to the looming environmental catastrophes, a cry against the arms trade, and its link to climate change.

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