Vivienne Westwood, groundbreaking punk fashion designer, dies at 81

Vivienne Westwood, the English fashion designer credited with popularizing punk rock style, died Thursday. She was 81.

Westwood died surrounded by her family in London, according to a statement shared on her social media accounts. Her cause of death was not released.

“Vivienne continued to do the things she loved, up until the last moment, designing, working on her art, writing her book, and changing the world for the better,” the statement continued. “She led an amazing life. Her innovation and impact over the last 60 years has been immense and will continue into the future.”

Westwood got her start selling clothes out of a boutique called SEX, located in London’s Chelsea neighborhood and operated by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

As the band, clad in her designs, rose to prominence, so did the Westwood brand. Her clientele included Chrissie Hynde, Iggy Pop, and Jerry Hall, among others.

“Vivienne is gone and the world is already a less interesting place,” Hynde said Thursday. “Love you Viv.”

Born April 8, 1941, in Glossop, England, Westwood moved to London with her family when she was a teenager. She attended a single term of art school before she met McLaren in the 1960s. She was working as a grade school teacher at the time.

Though the SEX boutique was a smashing success, Westwood and McLaren had an uneasy relationship, which she chronicled in part in a 2014 eponymous biography.

McLaren “couldn’t leave the flat until he’d done that, until he had made me cry,” Westwood remembered. She said she kept working with him because “I liked his ideas, and the journey of discovery he was on I wanted to join.”

When she left McLaren behind, Westwood established her own world-renowned fashion brand. She dressed both Hollywood and actual royalty, yet never strayed far from her punk aesthetic and philosophy.

“What I’m doing now, it still is punk — it’s still about shouting about injustice and making people think, even if it’s uncomfortable,” she said in a 2014 interview. “I’ll always be a punk in that sense.”

However, the designer did sometimes flirt with the establishment.

She accepted an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 1992, which was upgraded to a DBE in 2006. Westwood recently collaborated with Virgin Airlines on a redesign of the company’s flight crew uniforms.

“Why not — if you’re born, you know, somebody, a freak of beauty — why not look like a goddess? Why not?” she asked in a 2009 interview.

In addition to her commitment to punk, Westwood was devoted to promoting several causes that she felt strongly about. She was particularly focused on combating climate change and changed her company’s guiding principles to “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”

“I’m trying to make my company a model company for the age in which we live, in the hope that we do have a future and that the world will not fall victim to climate change,” she said in a 2017 interview.

“R.I.P. to the great and inspiring Vivienne Westwood who lead us through punk and beyond,” said English artist Boy George, who could often be seen in Westwood’s designs. “Laughed at by the fashion industry but without question she is the undisputed Queen of British fashion.”