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The Innovation Of Fashion Designers Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4415 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Vivienne Westwood has been an innovative and provocative fashion designer. She has been influenced primarily by the Punk movement and that is one of the reasons I chose to research her fashion collections. This essay is going to investigate the importance of the relationship between Vivienne Westwood and the Punk movement to the fashion society. Westwood established the background for the punk movement in the United Kingdom which affected a lot the fashion styles and until today many clothes are designed according to the Punk fashion style, for example the skinny jeans.

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I believe that this investigation will provide an insight on sociocultural facts and events that are memorable for the world of fashion. What attracted me to it was that Westwood who hadn’t done any studies on fashion, met Malcolm McLaren and together with their clothes, they were influenced by the British culture so much and they started working at the time when Punk movement was established. This made me think that when one has a gift and wants to become a successful person, eventually he will achieve his goals. Vivienne Westwood has had a successful career for more than 40 years.

The essay will focus on the first eight years of her career from 1970 to 1978. During this period the punk movement appeared all over the world. Punk was actually a music genre that developed during this period in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, which is the homeland of Westwood, Punk appeared as an alternative political movement, which expressed rebellion, but also appeared as a music scene which brought to the spotlight many punk music groups like the Sex Pistols etc. It also appeared as a fashion style. British adolescents have long created stylish subcultures in order to express all manner of rebellions [1] . The punk style is the connection between Vivienne Westwood and Punk. Therefore, the research question formed is; How Vivienne Westwood’s collections were affected by the punk movement?

The essay will start the biography of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren and I will refer to the definition and the characteristics of the punk movement in the United Kingdom. I will followins also write about the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls which are both Punk music groups and wore clothes of Vivienne Westwood. Following I will move into comparing in chronological order collections of Vivienne Westwood with particular punk music groups. The collections I will look into are; Let it Rock 1970, Too

fast to live Too young to die, 1972, Sex, 1974 and Seditionaries, 1976. This procedure will lead into the conclusion and my findings on Vivienne Westwood’s influences from the Punk movement



The punk movement appeared as a rock music genre which developed in the decade of the 70s in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. They created hard-edged music, characterized by short songs, stripped-down instrumentation and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. In Britain, the Punk movement was politically active and their main concern was the economy of the country. Many people were unemployed because the economy in the United Kingdom in the 1970s was in a recession. Early Punks played a role in politics and protest, and they wanted to express themselves as anticapitalists, antihippies, anarchists and fascists. They portrayed themselves as political radicals by drawing on themes of Marxism, fascism etc. Beyond the fact that punk started out as a music-based subculture, there is a debate about its geographic origins, its ideologies, its membership etc. Most published accounts of punk focus on the origins and flourishing of punk subculture from late 1960s to late 1970s. [2] Punk may have originated in the United States, but punk as a subculture gelled in mid-1970s Britain. [3] . Punk appeared also as a fashion style. The basic male uniform consisted of combat boots, leather jacket, torn jeans, shaved head and most girls tried to adopt this male uniform completely. The ways in which the punk girls combined their punkness and their gender is very unique. They combined female items with punk elements. The influence of the Punk style on music groups is remarkable. The Sex Pistols and New York Dolls are English bands which formed in 1975 in London and their manager was McLaren who was born in 1946 and is a performer and former manager of the two groups. Music, fashion, the Punk Movement was something that attracted him when he was in a Fine Arts college. Malcolm was a friend of Vivienne Westwood’s brother and that’s how they met. Vivienne Westwood was born in Glossop, Derbyshire on 8 April 1941. She is as much of a symbol of England as the Queen and the black cab. [4] She always liked fashion and a quote of her is that Fashion became her

baby, she picked it up and never put it down. [5] In 1965 she met Malcolm McLaren and a relationship began. Together they established the foundation of the punk movement by opening shops and creating clothes related to rebellion and punk. Westwood’s career in fashion was galvanized by her partner, Malcolm. [6] Their working relationship lasted from 1970 until 1983, and as is referred to above launched Punk.

In 1971 Vivienne thought they should set up a clothes shop, because Malcolm was certainly fascinated by clothes. Thereby, Malcolm found a place at King’s Road which was named Paradise Garage and the couple made an agreement to own part of the shop. Let It Rock was the name of Vivienne’s first collection and the name of the shop too. Her first collection included pieces of drape jackets, leather ties with plastic sleeves, drainpipe trousers, ruffled shirt, day-glo socks, bootlace tie etc. Her favorite fabric was leather, she used a lot of zippers and slogans in order to decorate her clothes.

They were interested in that era and they wanted to approach the Teddy boys who were into rebellion and could things stir up. Vivienne sourced authentic buttons, cloth and linings and informed by research in Teddy Boy clubs, copied and recoloured the look. [7] Vivienne began making trousers and more and more people were coming to the shop to try on their day-glo jackets, the special blue and silver trousers etc. At that period of time Vivienne and Malcolm went to a big music concert and were inspired in order to make their own T-shirt, Viva la Rock ‘n’ Roll. Malcolm described rock ‘n’ roll as the jungle beat that threatened white civilization. [8] It is a fact that in the collection Let It Rock of Vivienne Westwood we don’t see a big influence of the punk movement. This can be explained by the fact that at the period of time that Let It Rock was launched, it only the foundations of the punk movement had been established. Despite this fact we can find characteristics of the punk style in specific clothes of Let It Rock.

Let It Rock Collection

Figure 2. Sid Vicious, Let It Rock, 1970-1972

Figure 1. Vivienne Westwood, Let It Rock, 1970-1972Punks and members of music groups wore clothes that were ripped because in this way they were expressing rebellion through their style. In Figure 1 we see a T-shirt of Let It Rock which shows the influence of punk. Punk style was characterized by clothes with zippers, with holes, slogans, pins, pockets etc. The T-shirt in Figure 1 is ripped like all the clothes of Punks and it has many zippers and pockets and slogans that Vivienne used a lot. A characteristic example is Sid Vicious (Figure 2) who is wearing a ripped T-shirt of the Westwood Let It Rock collection and skinny jeans..

Moreover the slogans for her T-shirts were often lyrics of Sex Pistols songs. A characteristic example we see in Figure 3, in which Westwood is wearing her T-shirt with a photo of the Queen and the title of the Sex Pistols song God save the Queen on top.

Figure 3. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, Let It Rock 1970-1972

Figure 4. Destroy T-shirt, Let It Rock 1970-1972Another example of a T-shirt with a slogan is shown in Figure 4, in which Vivienne wants to get the message across that Nazis should not exist. She was against all this racism against the Jewish people etc and she wanted to make something in order to express her disappointment about the Nazis and

maybe she thought that she could change something. That’s why she thought to make a T-shirt with the swastika and the work Destroy on top.

An example for leather gear is Sid Vicious again (figure 5) who is wearing a leather jacket at a Sex Pistol concert in Notre Dame Hall. Also, Vivienne, who is promoting her style and her clothes by wearing a leather outfit herself.

Figure 5. Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood, Let It Rock 1970-1972

Although the Let It Rock collection and shop were very successful, Vivienne and Malcolm were searching for something new because the trend of the Teddy Boys had started to elapse. The Teddy Boys weren’t such rebels after all and because the couple wanted to express rebellion they needed something new. They started experimenting with rockers’ and a bike boys’ look and a tougher leather look which was accompanied with punk style. So, in the spring of 1973, they renamed the shop into Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die and Vivienne started a new collection. Malcolm started buying fabrics such as velvet and Lurex and he thought that they should sell second-hand jeans, customized leather, pegged trousers, double-breast Zoot suits with padded shoulders etc. Because some striped and plain black T-shirts were left over from Let It Rock collection, Vivienne decided against throwing these clothing items away and chose to alter them by ripping them, knotting, cutting holes, rolling and stitching sleeves together. Thereby, Westwood made a series of extraordinary clothes and especially T-shirts collaged with feathers, nipple-revealing zippers, studs, chains, potato prints, hand-stencilled garments and odd objects. She also put glitter on clothes and the whole work turned into something more creative and fun for her. Together with the punk style they also wanted to search for motorbike wear because the couple was interested in rubber, leather and fetishism. This collection of Westwood had the characteristic

that, it was a point at which elements of sex imagery, cult fashion and politics met. This characteristic was sometimes a disadvantage because they were sometimes prosecuted under the obscenity of law for exposing to public view an independent exhibition . One characteristic example is that one of their T-shirts showed two naked cowboys which was thought to be unethical, unacceptable and inappropriate by society at large.

Vivienne explained, … my job is to confront the Establishment to try to find out where the freedom lies and what you can do: the most obvious way I did that was through the porn T-shirts [9] . Actually she always wanted to express sex somehow. Even when she put zippers on her clothes above all there were all sort of other sexy associations with the zippers [10] .

All these characteristics like for example the zippers, leather, chains etc made her clothes surreal and somehow controversial. Also some of the clothes were characterized as rough and deliberately confrontational.

To Fast To Live To Young To Die Collection

In comparison with Let It Rock collection, here in the TFTLTYTD collection the influence of punk plays a bigger role and we can find characteristics of the punk movement in many clothes of Westwood.

Figure 6. Venus T-shirt, TFTLTYTD 1972-1974In Figure 6 we can see Simon Barker wearing the famous hand-made Venus T-shirt which had armholes edged with sections of bike tyres and trimmed with horse hair. For this T-shirt Vivienne was inspired from motorbike wear and the punk movement. Generally, she used also many clues in order to express sexuality. Regarding to the punk style as I have referred to above, the clothes have chains, slogans, pins, leather etc.. So, here in this T-shirt we have as elements taken from punk such as lots of pins, chains and of course the slogan Venus. Also we see that Simon Barker is wearing leather trousers and army boots that Punks quite often wore.

Figure 7. Vivienne Westwood, TFTLTYTD 1972-1974Moreover, as I referred to above, Vivienne wanted to express sex through her clothes, so most of the times she made and wore clothes with which she wanted to show that she was against all taboos. A characteristic example is in Figure 7, in which we see Vivienne wearing a shirt, a jacket and underwear from the TFTLTYTD collection without wearing jeans, or trousers above etc. By appearing in public like this she wanted to get the message across that she hated Puritanism and that people should not had taboos and prejudices regarding sex and the expression of the human body.

The above opinion is also supported by Figure 8 in which we see Malcolm wearing the T-shirt Two Naked Cowboys of the TFTLTYTD collection. This is one of the T-shirts that had the couple prosecuted under the obscenity of law for exposing to public view an independent exhibition [11] . Vivienne didn’t want to be limited in her designs regarding to ethical implications but sometimes she was obligated to be limited because of the authorities.

Figure 8. Two naked cowboys, TFTLTYTD 1972-1974

Figure 9. McLaren and Westwood, TFTLTYTD 1972-1974 In addition, Vivienne herself wore the clothes she designed and by doing so she aimed at promoting the clothes and the punk style also. A characteristic example is Figure 9 in which we see Vivienne with Malcolm in a Photo shout. Vivienne is wearing leather jeans and a blouse with a zipper that could be characterized as conservative. In this photo shooting she wanted to wear something conservative but still in leather so we continue to see the effect of punk on her. She wanted to provoke and show that she is different, that she can be conservative through Punk too.

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As time passed McLaren set the scene for Punk via the next venture into a field that he knew would provoke still more outrage. He said characteristically in an interview of Elle magazine in November of 1985; It started with an interest in any form of youth revolt, so that it involved Teddy Boys and Rockers. Then we brought the sex element into it. [12] So, in 1974 they renamed their shop to SEX written with pink letters again. At that time they started selling bondage gear such as rubber body suits, rubber masks, leather mini skirts, leather underwear, shirts with chains,

padlocks, fishnets, fetishistic lace-up boots and they also sold stilettos. At that time their slogan was Rubber wear for the office. The couple wanted to prove that they didn’t care about taboos and prejudices and that’s why in this collection they marketed clothes related to sadomasochism, fascism, pornography etc. Her clothes continued to shock society if we consider that this collection was selling sex more than the previous ones. Vivienne explains, all the clothes that I wore that people would regard as shocking, I wore them because I just thought I looked like a princess from another planet, I just thought I looked incredible in these clothes. [13] . The influence of Punk in SEX is more than in the previous collections because SEX clothes were mostly made of leather, chains etc which are basic elements of punk style. Punk was a cross-fertilization of SEX clothes [14] . Some people believe that punk was an eruption in the streets. But what it was infact was a fashion event from the start, like the creation of a historical painting based on a revolution; because that is what it actually was, a revolution.

Sex Collection

A characteristic example of this sexual revolution that Vivienne wanted to express through fashion is the T-shirt Tits in figure 10. It is a T-shirt from SEX and it was worn by both men and women but it was preferred by men because they wanted to shock by expressing the idea of homosexuality;

Figure 10. Tits T-shirt, SEX 1974-1976

Figure 10. Tits T-shirt, SEX 1974-1976

Moreover as it was referred to above, punk influenced SEX in such a way Vivienne used their elements and their main fabric, leather in making her clothes. In Figure 11 we observe how punk influenced SEX. In this picture we see Jordan, shop girl of 1974, wearing a leather outfit of SEX. In the foreground it is shown a body suit made of leather belts and in the background we can find rubber clothes hanging on racks.

Figure 11. Jordan, SEX 1974-1976

We can find another example of Punk influence on SEX in Figure 12, in which we see Johnny Rotten wearing a black leather bondage suit. This piece of clothing shows the combination of punk and sexuality because leather is the fabric of punks and when we talk about bondage suits we relate them to sadomasochism and generally sex.

Figure 12. John Rotten, SEX 1974-1976

Furthermore in Figure 13 it can be detected Vivienne wearing a total black outfit made of rubber and leather. It has some pins on top and Vivienne is also holding some leather straps attached to other leather objects. Malcolm and Vivienne had gone all the way by making a public display of the leather and rubber stuff that fetishists succumbed to in private.

Figure 13. Vivienne Westwood, SEX 1974-1976

What SEX was and generally what all Westwood collections were was a complex amalgam of various stylish influences, in which Punk had its roots in the streets of London and the music scenes of New York. As time went by the New York Dolls made their own decadent outfits to which Westwood added elements from the torn clothes of the pin-ups in Let it Rock, chains, zips, rubber wear and bondage garments of SEX. Consequently, in 1977 the shop and the collection changed its name yet again into Seditionaries under the slogan Clothes for heroes. The word Seditionaries was Vivienne’s concoction and was based on the fact that someone needed to seduce people in order to revolt. This moment was the peak of all this punk madness. In this collection the zips and straps of obscure sexual fetishism were transformed into fashion. Malcolm and Vivienne continued selling SEX T-shirts and fetish gear but everything was much smarter, less underground and less provincially British [15] . They made some T-shirts with photos, slogans on top and again they borrowed elements from the Punk movement. Savage wrote that Seditionaries brought the modern look in the 1970s but also Seditionaries clothes unleashed a more violent reaction combined with punk elements than SEX clothes. If the first Punks had thrown up every youth style since the war and then stuck it together with safety pins and panache, Seditionaries avoided retro yet caught the confusion: the look – both in the original and the imitations – spread thoughout the world [16] . This collection included again bondage trousers and clothes with straps and zips. Westwood in this collection used wool, mohair and leather

for fabric which were elements of Punk movement. Westwood also made trousers based on military wear but even then she added her own elements based on sado-masochistic and fetishist gear. The Punks at that time had their own army uniform. The clothes were accessorized with pins, razor blades and silver phalluses. They tended to throw together sado-masochistic bondage paraphernalia and clothing associated with the hospital or the mental asylums so that they produced a surreal commentary on the anarchic tendencies of the sartorial display. Again with this collection Vivienne wanted to reveal taboos and mess with the normative class coding. One of the most significant factors of Punk at that moment was that it gave license for women to dress assertively. Vivienne said characteristically that Punk was what made her think of herself as a designer. Actually what Punk was both for her and society was a fashionable expression of a revolution. In fact, fashion itself became a revolution.

Seditionaries Collection

In Figure 14 we can identify that Vivienne made such shirts like in this Figure which has an image of Karl Marx in the top left hand in order to express revolution. Punks wanted to mess with everything and break the rules and norms. Marx symbolized revolution and was against the system as were the Punks. And this is the reason why her clothes appealed to Punks.

Figure 14. Punk shirt, Seditionaries 1977

Figure 15. Blue cotton shirt, Seditionaries 1976-1980In Figure 15 we observe a Seditionaries blue cotton parachute shirt with strap harness, printed with situationist slogans such as ‘Only Anarchists are Pretty’. Regarding the Seditionaries clothes, they had borrowed elements from the Punk movement and also elements from the SEX collection. All these straps and slogans were characteristic of the Punk style and the whole parachute thing reminds us of the SEX bondage gear.

In the 16th and last Figure we detect a few clothes of the Seditionaries worn by a number of Punks. The woolen sweaters that are shown in the figure and all these parachute jackets have been borrowed from the Punk style. In addition the jackets also have elements from SEX bondage and sado-masochistic gear which exists also in Seditionaries collection.

Figure 16. Punk clothes, Seditionaries 1977


Manifests are always written after an event. In retrospect, the manifest of the Punk movement allowed a person to express himself, to succeed or even fail in extravagant way. The music, fashion and of course the Punk movement were a huge art festival which was born from the life and the experiences that Malcolm McLaren gained in the school of Arts. He inspired Vivienne to create this vast business in the world of fashion based on the Punk movement. This was the new fashion, the new way of thinking. The couple started from a small shop in King’s Road and step by step they created their own rules for life, their own norms, their own identity. In other words they set the foundation for an alternative society. Of course all these things were based on the Punk movement and primarily on their ideology. Vivienne not only used the elements of the Punk movement but also their ideology. Through her fashion, she wanted to make rebellion and go against mainstream society, just like the Punks. That’s why she used symbols related to Punks and rebellion in her clothes like for example Karl Marx, or the swastika with the word Destroy on top etc. Combining irony and the ideology of Punks she wanted to break taboos like the issue of homosexuality or nudity etc. Actually McLaren and Westwood’s aim was to create something new, totally fashionable while they were using symbolism to convey their ideas. And that was the point where they needed Punk, as inspiration and influence. Vivienne characteristically says about Punk I’m proud to have been part of it. It was heroic at the time [17] . But as it is known, fashion is like a circle and the trends change every now and then, so the whole issue with the influence of the Punk movement in Vivienne’s career stopped at the beginning of the 80s. From the 80s there on, she introduced a startling and highly influential new vocabulary about fashion which was characterized as nostalgia for the future. In spite of this she never forgot her origins. Vivienne never created something conservative despite the fact that their future collections don’t have elements from the Punk movement. Vivienne’s career was built on punk. Whenever she gives an interview she refers to the influence that Punk had on her work and life, saying characteristically that Punk and McLaren were the two factors that encouraged her to make fashion and to be who she is now. The punk period helped her develop creatively. Having created the Sex Pistols look he gained more self-confidence and realized her vast creative abilities. Fortunately, Punk helped Westwood expand her abilities, and identify her talent. Westwood was determined to leave her mark on international fashion which she certainly did.


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