A brief history of Vivienne Westwood in 10 signature looks

‘Vivienne’s sense of activism, art and style is embedded in each and every piece that she created,’ says specialist Adrian Hume-Sayer. These selected lots from Vivienne Westwood: The Personal Collection — Part I show us how

Vivienne Westwood wearing an ice-blue satin scoop-necked ‘Cinderella’ dress, from the ‘Gaia The Only One’ Collection, Spring-Summer 2011. Photo: © Ugo Camera

‘Vivienne Westwood’s contribution to fashion is unique, perhaps unparalleled,’ says Alexander Fury, fashion correspondent at T: The New York Times Style Magazine. ‘Her creations have affected not just the clothes on our back, but culture as a whole.’

On 25 June, Christie’s will offer Westwood’s personal wardrobe in a landmark auction, Vivienne Westwood: The Personal Collection — Part I, with an online sale running alongside until 28 June, to raise funds for The Vivienne Foundation, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières and Greenpeace.

Offered across the two sales are more than 200 lots, including garments, shoes and jewellery created and worn by Westwood during the last four decades of her life, with the earliest look dating from her Autumn-Winter 1983/84 ‘Witches’ Collection. The live auction will also include The Big Picture — Vivienne’s Playing Cards: Collect the cards. Connect the cards, a legacy project by The Vivienne Foundation, with sale proceeds going to Greenpeace.

‘Vivienne’s sense of activism, art and style is embedded in each and every piece that she created,’ says Adrian Hume-Sayer, Director, Private & Iconic Collections, London, and Head of Sale. ‘The sale will be a unique opportunity for audiences to encounter both the public and the private world of the great Dame Vivienne Westwood and to raise funds for the causes in which she so ardently believed.’

Born in Derbyshire in 1941, Westwood started her career as a primary school teacher before moving into the world of fashion following a chance meeting with Malcolm McLaren, then a 19-year-old art student and music impresario.

Vivienne Westwood wearing a white silk crepe evening gown with red wine stain detail and a green wool cardigan from the ‘Summertime’ Collection, Spring-Summer 2000. Photo: © Immo Kink

In 1971 they opened a small shop — Let It Rock — at 430 King’s Road in London, selling 1950s memorabilia and Teddy Boy clothes. They famously renamed it SEX in 1974 and swapped brothel creepers and bootlace ties for rubber dresses, spiked stilettos and slogan T-shirts, which soon became symbols of anti-establishment street style.

By the mid-1970s, Westwood and McLaren, who was by then also managing the Sex Pistols, were at the heart of the aesthetic and cultural revolution now known as Punk. ‘It was about smashing all the values,’ Westwood later said of the movement, ‘all the taboos of a world that was so cruel and unjust, mismanaged and corrupt.’

By the early 1980s, they had begun to explore a new aesthetic, which took its cues from historical dress. The New Romantic era was characterised by collections of rich baroque excess, and the pair costumed major bands of the day, from Adam and the Ants to Culture Club. Their first collaborative catwalk show, ‘Pirate’ (Autumn-Winter 1981/82), featured loose-bottomed, wide-striped buccaneer trousers, and oversized shirts worn with draped sashes.

Following her split from McLaren in 1982, Westwood continued to plunder the past for inspiration, reworking styles and silhouettes from traditional English tailoring — notably corsets, crinolines, bustles and platforms. Her ‘Harris Tweed’ Collection (Autumn-Winter 1987/88) drew on London’s celebrated Savile Row tailors, while her ‘Cut, Slash and Pull’ Collection (Spring-Summer 1991), was inspired by Tudor portraiture.

‘Westwood’s back catalogue may be drawn from history, but the modern reinventions belong to her alone,’ notes Fury. ‘She has created a language of style, a vocabulary of clothes that are distinctive and, possibly, without contemporary parallel.’

Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler photographed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Westwood is wearing a white viscose ‘Knocker’ dress from the Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ Collection, Spring-Summer 2020. Photo: © Ki Price

As for accolades, they came thick and fast. In 1989, the publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, John Fairchild, cited Westwood as one of the six most important designers in the world in his book Chic Savages. In 1990 and 1991, Westwood was the British Council’s Fashion Designer of the Year. In 1992, she famously accepted an OBE from the Queen wearing no underwear, and married Andreas Kronthaler, who would be her partner in love and fashion for more than 30 years.

Over the following decades, Westwood continued to push sartorial boundaries, building a global empire in the process, with lines spanning accessories, knitwear and perfume. In 2004, she enjoyed a major retrospective at the V&A in London, and in 2006 was awarded a damehood for services to fashion.

By the mid-2000s, political activism had become a core focus of her work, with her runway increasingly used to platform her social, environmental and political beliefs. She campaigned tirelessly to improve industry standards, promote individual liberty, combat climate change and raise funds for the charitable organisations close to her heart.

In celebration of Westwood’s extraordinary vision, here are 10 lots that mark significant moments in her life and career.

‘Witches’ Collection

Vivienne Westwood, 1983. Photo: Andy Hosie / Mirrorpix / Getty Images

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6489807

A navy blue serge two piece ensemble, World’s End, from the ‘Witches’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 1983/84. Sold for £8,190 on 25 June 2024 at Christie’s in London

‘Witches’ (Autumn-Winter 1983/84) was Westwood and McLaren’s last official collaborative collection for their label World’s End, inspired in part by witchcraft and in part by Keith Haring’s graphic code of magic symbols. Presented in Paris to critical acclaim, the collection featured asymmetric silhouettes, peaked shoulders and layered knitwear. Haring’s fluorescent, graffiti-inspired designs adorned a number of the pieces.

This navy blue ensemble comprises a square-shouldered boxy jacket and a pleated skirt with an extended cream waistband.

The corset

Of all Westwood’s hallmark designs, the corset is perhaps her most radical. ‘Westwood reimagined the garment to empower women rather than bind them. She introduced stretch panels on the side and zip fastenings instead of lacing at the back,’ says Hume-Sayer.

She was also one of the first designers to style it as outerwear rather than underwear, garnering praise from industry insiders and fashion critics alike. This pink flock velvet example from her Autumn-Winter 1989/90 collection is styled in signature Westwood fashion over a floral chiffon blouse.

Jewellery

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6489816

Vivienne Westwood, a pair of paste-set gilt-metal ‘Orb’ earrings from the ‘Anglomania’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 1993/94. Sold for £4,788 on 25 June 2024 at Christie’s in London

Vivienne Westwood wearing a knuckle-duster ‘Orb’ ring from the ‘Salon’ Collection, Spring-Summer 1992. Photo: © Albert Watson

The late 1980s saw the introduction of the now iconic Vivienne Westwood logo: an orb surmounted by a cross, surrounded by the rings of Saturn. According to Carlo D’Amario, who was appointed managing director of the brand in 1986, the logo beautifully encapsulates Westwood’s vision of taking tradition into the future.

Over the years, the orb logo has adorned a wide range of Westwood products, from clothes to lifestyle accessories and costume jewellery. Among the jewelled lots featuring the logo are this pair of ‘Orb’ earrings, from Westwood’s ‘Anglomania’ Collection (Autumn-Winter 1993/94), and a knuckle-duster ‘Orb’ ring from the ‘Salon’ Collection (Spring-Summer 1992).

Heels

Vivienne Westwood wearing a pair of burgundy leather lace-up platform boots from the ‘Dressed to Scale’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 1998/99. Photo: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Image

The early 1990s saw Westwood’s international profile soar. In 1993 she sent Naomi Campbell down the runway in a plaid skirt, feather boa and nine-inch purple platform heels. When the supermodel took a tumble, Westwood’s shoes flew off the shelves.

Platforms and vertiginous lace-up boots are now among the brand’s signature designs. Notable examples coming to auction include this pair from the ‘Dressed to Scale’ Collection (Autumn-Winter 1998/99), a pair of ‘Mock-Croc’ ‘Clomper’ sandals (‘War and Peace’ Collection, Spring-Summer 2012) and a pair of electric-blue brocade platform ankle boots (‘Save the Rainforest’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 2014/15).

The ‘Dressed to Scale’ gown

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6489835

Vivienne Westwood in a corset gown of taupe silk taffeta from the ‘Dressed to Scale’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 1998/99. Photo: Richard Young / Shutterstock

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6489835

Vivienne Westwood, a corset gown of taupe silk taffeta from the ‘Dressed to Scale’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 1998/99. Sold for £32,760 on 25 June 2024 at Christie’s in London

During the late 1990s, Westwood played with scale and proportion to create a sense of displacement in her collections, most notably in ‘Dressed to Scale’ (Autumn-Winter 1998/99), in which details such as sashes and bows were blown up to become the decorative focus.

One fine example is this off-the-shoulder corset gown made from taupe silk taffeta, featuring oversized black satin sashes around the waist and arms. Westwood wore the dress to attend the Vivienne Westwood Fashion Tribute at the Victoria and Albert Museum in November 1998.

‘This is structurally the most magnificent lot in the sale,’ says Hume-Sayer. ‘She’s used layers and layers of fabric to create the bubble skirt and the corseted bodice featuring Westwood’s signature zip and stretch panels.’

Signature graphics

Perhaps more than any designer, Westwood used clothes as a tool to communicate her political, environmental and social beliefs. The dress above, printed with profane slogans such as ‘Who the Fuck Needs Art’, comes from Westwood’s ‘Propaganda’ Collection (Spring-Summer 2005/06), which referenced her punk days as well as Aldous Huxley’s essay Propaganda in a Democratic Society.

‘Her love of the graphic T-shirt lies in its simplicity, both as a pure example of design and as a placard for a message,’ writes Fury in Catwalk. ‘She used it for punk slogans, inciting destruction of the status quo; for Old Master paintings celebrating high culture; latterly, for environmental slogans reflecting her concern over the state of the planet.’ One such example is this white jersey T-shirt dress printed with a climate-change map of the world on its back.

‘Gaia The Only One’ Collection

Open link https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6489873

Vivienne Westwood, an ice-blue satin scoop-necked ‘Cinderella’ dress, inspired by ballet costume, from the ‘Gaia The Only One’ Collection, Spring-Summer 2011. Sold for £25,200 on 25 June 2024 at Christie’s in London

Vivienne Westwood wearing a ‘Cinderella’ dress from the ‘Gaia The Only One’ Collection, Spring-Summer 2011. Photo: © Ugo Camera

This ice-blue satin scoop-necked ‘Cinderella’ dress is from Westwood’s ‘Gaia The Only One’ Collection (Spring-Summer 2011), which took Matisse, commedia dell’arte and ballet as its central themes. According to Westwood’s family, it was among the designer’s most treasured — and worn — items.

For Hume-Sayer, it also illustrates Westwood’s commitment to sustainability. ‘She advocated for quality over quantity, and often wore clothes again and again,’ he says. ‘Several items in the sale, including this one, have repairs sewn by Westwood herself.’

Gold ‘Illusion’ gown

In 2010, Westwood began working with the Ethical Fashion Inititative to produce an accessories line in Kenya. A year later, the designer and select members of her team, along with the photographer Juergen Teller, travelled to Nairobi to meet some of the local craftspeople involved in the production of these pieces. Teller shot a reportage of the visit which was exhibited in the Pitti Uomo Palace in Florence in June 2011.

While in Kenya, Teller also shot the fashion campaign for Westwood’s ‘World Wide Woman’ Collection (Autumn-Winter 2011/12), starring Westwood and the Kenyan model Elsie Njeri with some of the handbags and accessories made by the women in Nairobi. Among the looks worn by Westwood for the campaign was this full-length gown embellished with gold sequins.

Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood

Westwood met the Austrian fashion student Andreas Kronthaler in the late 1980s when teaching at the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts. They married in 1992. In 2016, Kronthaler was appointed the brand’s creative director, and the Gold Label line was renamed ‘Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood’, a reflection of Kronthaler’s input since the 1990s. Among the notable Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood pieces coming to auction is a coral pink ‘Superbo’ dress and this dirndl dress with peach damask bodice and floral silk apron, both from the ‘Andreas’ Collection (Spring-Summer 2018).

Tartan

Vivienne Westwood attends an End Ecocide press conference in London, January 2014

Vivienne Westwood attends an End Ecocide press conference in London, January 2014, wearing an oversized seersuckered and boiled wool ‘Clint Eastwood’ bomber jacket with pink checked body and red welts from the ‘Anglophilia’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 2002/03, and knitted cashmere drop-crotch trousers from the ‘Wake Up Cave Girl’ Collection, Autumn-Winter 2007/08. Photo: Ki Price / Corbis via Getty Images

Although Westwood was experimenting with tartan in the late 1980s, it would not become a hallmark of her work until the ‘Anglomania’ Collection (Autumn-Winter 1993/94), for which she produced her own tartan and invented her own clan, MacAndreas. The MacAndreas tartan, which was added to the Scottish Register of Tartans that same year, was used to make a striking suit dress comprising a fitted jacket and full-length kilt.

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Tartan and checks of all forms and tones have appeared in many of Westwood’s designs since, including the ‘Anglophilia’ Collection (Autumn-Winter 2002/03), which featured clothes inspired by royal courts. Westwood was photographed wearing an oversized checked bomber jacket fromAnglophilia’ with the Italian fashion writer Anna Piaggi, and she was also frequently seen wearing it while cycling around London.

Vivienne Westwood: The Personal Collection is on view until 28 June 2024 at Christie’s in London. The Part I live sale takes place on 25 June. Part II, an online sale, is open for bidding until 28 June.

In celebration of this landmark occasion, a limited-edition catalogue and tote bag have been produced to accompany the auctions. Pre-orders now open

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