About the artwork
Vivienne Westwood is perhaps best-known, together with her former partner, Malcolm McLaren, as one of the pioneers of punk fashion during the late 1970s. Their clothes shop, under various names, in London’s Kings Road was at the centre of the punk movement. In 1981 Westwood launched herself as a fashion designer and began to look to a whole range of influences for her designs, encouraged by McLaren. The theme of her first collection was ‘pirates’. She went on to produce garments inspired by other historical subjects, ethnic styles, 18th century French art, and classic British tweeds and tailoring.
This outfit is from her second collection, known both as the Buffalo Girls Collection (Autumn-Winter 1982-83) and the Nostalgia of Mud Collection. It comprises a machine-knitted wool dress with train, a wool felt hat and ‘baggy’ suede shoes. Its baggy, layered look, earthy colours and felted wool hat were all inspired by garments worn by Peruvian Indian women. Nostalgia of Mud was also the name of one of Westwood and McLaren’s short-lived shops in London’s St Christopher’s Place. In 1983, McLaren, pursuing his own musical career by then, released a single and video, Buffalo Gals, in which Westwood’s collection was featured.
Vivienne Westwood was born in Tintwistle, Derbyshire, in 1941, the daughter of a dressmaker. After school she studied for one term at Harrow Art School on a silversmithing and jewellery-making course. She left Harrow to take a secretarial course and eventually became a primary school teacher in Willesden, North London.
In 1962 she married Derek Westwood, an airline steward. In 1965 she met Malcolm McLaren, a friend of her brother who had also studied at Harrow Art School. Vivienne divorced Westwood in 1966 and began living with McLaren, shortly afterwards setting up a business selling costume jewellery in London’s Portobello Market.
For the next few years, while McLaren attended a succession of college courses, Westwood continued as a teacher and part-time jewellery maker. Both were influenced musically by 1950s rock and roll and by the Teddy Boy culture. In 1971 they opened their first shop, Let it Rock, at 430 Kings Road, together with Patrick Casey, a friend of McLaren’s from art school. They sold 1950s records and memorabilia in a typical British retro style. In 1972 Westwood gave up teaching and began working at the shop full-time. She began making modern copies of original 1950s clothes and altering original garments, helped by veteran East End tailor, Sid Green. This was the period when Westwood, already with a natural flair for making clothes, taught herself all the basics of dressmaking and tailoring.
By early 1973, Westwood and McLaren were running out of original stock for Let it Rock and were becoming disenchanted with the Teddy Boy look. They re-launched the shop as Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, inspired by 1950s rebel figures such as James Dean and Marlon Brando. Their new stock included printed, ripped and zippered T-shirts, the forerunners of their later punk designs.
In 1974 the shop was re-branded once again as Sex, selling bondage and fetish-inspired clothes as well as the ripped and printed T-shirts. By 1976 McLaren had also formed the infamous punk band the Sex Pistols as a way of publicising the shop and the clothes it sold. He developed ideas for the designs and Westwood made them, often on the kitchen table at their flat. By December 1976 the shop had been renamed once again as Seditionaries and was selling all of their now iconic punk designs including bondage trousers, mohair jumpers, parachute shirts and jackets as well as T-shirts printed with slogans and anarchist symbols. It became the headquarters for the Sex Pistols and for the British punk movement in general.
In 1980 the shop was re-named for the final time as World’s End, after the old pub of that name on the Kings Road. The Punk movement was on the wane and Westwood was looking for new outlets for her creative drive. She started to develop her first ‘proper’ fashion collection, ‘Pirates’, which she launched as a catwalk show at the Pillar Hall, Olympia, West London, in March 1981. It was the start of her career as a ‘real’ fashion designer with seasonal collections. Her professional and personal partnership with McLaren lasted until 1983 when they went their separate ways.
Since then Westwood has gone on to achieve international acclaim as a designer, being voted British Fashion Designer of the Year in 1990 and 1991. She was awarded the OBE in 1991 and in 2006 became a Dame of the British Empire for ‘services to fashion’.