British fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood died “peacefully and surrounded by her family” at her South London home Thursday, according to her company. She was 81 years old.
“I will continue with Vivienne in my heart,” her husband and design partner, Andreas Kronthaler, said in a statement. “We have been working until the end, and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. Thank you, darling.”
An icon of punk style, Westwood was a school teacher before she opened her first clothing store — Let It Rock, later renamed Sex — in London in the early 1970s. She ran the shop with her then-partner, Malcolm McLaren, who put together and managed the Sex Pistols; per the BBC, “They shot to fame wearing Westwood and McLaren’s designs.” Westwood had her first runway show in 1981 and would bring straps, chains, and other bondage-inspired accents into the mainstream. For her contributions to fashion, she was made a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2006 — elevated from her previous title of officer of the Order of the British Empire, which she received in 1992. On the first occasion, she famously forewent underwear to meet the queen; on the second, she reportedly told the Daily Mail, “Don’t ask. It’s the same answer. I don’t wear them with dresses.”
Westwood was also known for her commitment to activism and in recent years became particularly outspoken on the climate crisis, launching a Climate Revolution campaign through her foundation. A Greenpeace ambassador, Westwood often incorporated her politics into her work. On December 29, the day of her death, her foundation posted a video of her 2021 “Letter to Earth” reading, filmed at the Globe Theater. “The word economy means household management,” she said. “Earth is our home, so, on a global scale, economy means sustainability. We don’t have that. We have no future; we have a financial system based on perpetual war, trade war, and competition. It is the cause of climate change.”
According to her foundation, Westwood “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.”