Dame Vivienne Westwood passed away this week aged 81Hervé Grella @Flickr

When thinking of Vivienne Westwood, the first thing that comes to mind for many today is the iconic pearl choker. Even for those of you who know little about this legendary designer, the resurgence of this necklace’s popularity on social media has made her a well-known name amongst a younger crowd. Yet, so often paired with pristine silk slip dresses in all their elegant social conformity, its recent symbolism feels somewhat misunderstood. In its TikTok presentation there is not the edge and disruption that Westwood so often sought to create in her work: it’s not punk. The logo of the royal sceptre encircled with Saturn’s rings is meant to represent a bringing of the past into the future - taking a symbol of the establishment and appropriating it for her own defiant ends. Her fashion was never intended to conform.

“Her fashion held up a signet-ringed middle finger to the upper classes”

Westwood was the godmother of punk, with her raunchy and risk-taking boutique being heavily involved with the punk icons of the day like the Sex Pistols. However, for Westwood, punk wasn’t just an aesthetic - it was a political movement. She wanted her clothes to inspire change and disrupt the structures of society itself, taking the tweed of the upper class and repurposing it into daring silhouettes; cutting the crinolines free of Victorian dress and making them a statement of her own. Her fashion held up a signet-ringed middle finger to the upper classes who lovingly drank it up in response. The Queen even granted her the title of Dame despite Westwood going knickerless to their first meeting.

Initially, it’s quite ironic that such an anti-consumerist figure ran one of the most famous fashion houses in the world. Yet, she was also the same woman to daringly encourage her customers to “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last” while being a fraught fighter against climate change, capitalism, fracking, fascism, and war. Sometimes these leftist statements were made through her wardrobe – such as when she dressed up as Margaret Thatcher for the cover of Tatler - but they also pushed beyond her famously divisive slogan T-shirts into real-world action. You don’t just park a white tank outside of David Cameron’s house to protest fracking because it looks cool. While her fashion did fight for individual expression, it also went beyond the individual to global causes.

“In the eyes of Gen-Z she is no longer a punk anarchist, but coquette inspiration”

In the wake of her death, the expected slew of social media recollections revealed to me an interview in which her designs were outrageously laughed at over and over by the crowd. They giggled at the idea that men would purchase her pearl necklaces, hooted at her frivolous tutus and corsets, and squawked at her pagan inspirations. Little could their small minds have imagined the world of Harry Styles’ Vogue cover, corsets as everyday wear, Miu Miu skirts, and ballet-core as the in-thing. Vivienne’s brilliant, gender-breaking vision could see beyond this limited conception of fashion.


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Yet, Gen-Z seems to have sadly forgotten the revolutionary eccentricity that Westwood was once known for. Most only view her through a Pinterest lens - search her name on the site and you’re confronted with her coveted statue-esque wedding dresses, pearl chokers resting elegantly against pristine white backgrounds, Rococo corsets, and lacy platforms. All sense of rebellion is lost. In the eyes of Gen-Z she is no longer a punk anarchist, but coquette inspiration.

Although Vivienne Westwood’s death is a tragic loss to the world of fashion, I hope the resurgence of her memory reminds people of her true legacy. Her fashion did not exist to conform to the historic image of high establishment dress, but to rip it to shreds. To wear the pearl choker with a torn-up T-shirt demanding the end of climate injustice. To rock the corset with a wild, rag-tag skirt. What the coquette girls of social media seem to have forgotten is that at heart, Vivienne truly belongs to the punks and the revolutionaries. I hope that legacy isn’t forgotten.