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Punk designs, Swiss fabrics: Vivienne Westwood at 80

Vivienne Westwood's Red Label show during London Fashion Week for Autumn/Winter 2013/14. 2013 Getty Images

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is largely responsible for bringing punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream during the 1970s. Today, as she turns 80, she remains the queen of punk rock fashion – albeit swapping the safety pins for Swiss cloth.

This content was published on April 8, 2021 - 11:00

Westwood first came to public attention in the early 1970s, when she made clothes for her then boyfriend Malcolm McLaren’s boutique “SEX” on the King’s Road in London.

Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in 1978. Alamy Stock Photo

Westwood would go on to open four shops in London before eventually expanding throughout the United Kingdom and the world, selling an increasingly varied range of merchandise, some of which promoted political causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, climate change activism, and various civil rights groups.
 

Models surround designer Vivienne Westwood after her show in New York, 2000. Reuters / Reuters Photographer

Swiss expertise, British punk

At the beginning of her career, the designer may have only used a few safety pins and felt pens to design and graffiti her rebel designs, but over the years she grew to be an astute businesswoman known throughout the world. A nose for textiles also led her towards the expertise of award-winning cloth designers in Switzerland, where she would source the cloth for her haute couture designs.

An outfit by British Designer Vivienne Westwood from her Red Label Spring/Summer '98 collection Afp / Paul Vicente

One such company, which has been producing high-quality cloth for over a hundred years, is Jakob Schlaepfer. His company has supplied the fashion world from its premises in St Gallen with creative and striking materials for both the haute couture and upmarket ready-to-wear markets. The former Creative Director for Schlaepfer, Martin LeutholdExternal link, also designed cloth for Westwood’s creations – she is reported to be the only person he told of his retirement plans from the firm three years ago.

Other young Swiss designers are also said to have had the honour of working for Westwood; Sandro Schwyzer, who met her while living in London, and more recently the Zurich-based designer Julia SeemannExternal link, who did an internship with the British grand dame of punk couture.

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