Play Pause

The Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Art (CIRCA) in London commissions new ideas from emerging and established artists.



8 April, CIRCA 2021

Vivienne Westwood (born 1941) has been at the epicentre of British fashion since she began selling her punk-inspired designs in Malcom McLaren’s influential Kings Road store, Sex, in the 1970s.

The Dame of the British Empire revolutionised what is deemed appropriate to wear in public. Indeed, it was she who first introduced bondage trousers and other aspects of BDSM, along with safety pins and chains to the fashion mainstream. Her use of 17th and 18th century cutting techniques, especially the radical cutting lines she developed for men’s trousers, continue to be used and emulated today.

Westwood’s first runway presentation titled Pirates was staged in 1981. She has since gone on to create collections titled Savage, Buffalo Girls, New Romantics and The Pagan Years.

An activist by conscience, Westwood often litters her designs with slogans and other political calls to action, though they are no less beautiful for it. Westwood’s primary political concerns have shifted over the years; she is now predominately an activist for climate change, nuclear disarmament and civil rights, especially that of freedom of speech. “I make the great claim for my manifesto that it penetrates to the root of the human predicament and offers the underlying solution. We have a choice to become more cultivated, and therefore more human; or by not choosing, to be the destructive and self-destroying animal, the victim of our own cleverness. To be or not to be…” she wrote in a manifesto entitled Active Resistance to Propaganda.

Westwood studied at the Harrow School of Art and the University of Westminster, taking courses in fashion and silver-smithing, but left after one term. “I didn’t know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world,” she said. After taking up a job in a factory, then training to be an educator, she became a primary school teacher. During this period, she also created her own jewellery, which she would sell at a stall on London’s Portobello Road.