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Popular fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood dies at 81

Dame Vivienne Westwood

The designer’s representatives confirmed the news on Thursday evening and said she died ‘peacefully’ surrounded by her family in Clapham, South London earlier that day.

Her husband and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler said in a statement: ‘I will continue with Vivienne in my heart.

‘We have been working until the end and she has given me plenty of things to get on with. ‘Thank you, darling.’

Dame Vivienne was best known for her quirky fashion designs which brought punk and a new wave to the mainstream.

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Her designs were a prominent part of pop culture; most notably, the 2008 Sex and the City movie featured Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) having to choose which famous fashion designer would create her wedding dress.

The fictional columnist, who was hoping to tie the knot with longtime lover Big, opted for a Westwood design that has become one of the most famous on-screen gowns in Hollywood.

Celebrities to have commissioned Dame Vivienne’s work over the years include Dita Von Teese, who wore a purple gown from the designer when she married Marilyn Manson in 2005, and the various dresses Princess Beatrice wore during Prince William and Catherine, the Princess of Wales’ Royal wedding weekend in 2011.

Kim Kardashian is known to be a fan of Dame Vivienne’s work having worn her in the past, while Pharrell Williams and Marion Cotillard have also sported notable looks.

Dame Vivienne’s fashion career took off when she teamed up with Malcolm McLaren, who became her partner, and launched her first fashion collection, called Pirate and Westwood’s first fashion collection to be shown to the media and potential international buyers was Pirate.

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They went on to release several more collections together before separating, and Dame Vivienne found success on her own.

During the period of 1981–85, the designer created pieces inspired by the New Romantic era, while she called the period between 1988 and 1991 The Pagan Years.

Dame Vivienne is also largely responsible for the uniforms worn by flight attendants on Virgin Atlantic, after working closely with Sir Richard Branson on creating the airline’s iconic red outfits. It’s said both the designer and billionaire entrepreneur were keen on ensuring all designs used sustainable materials.

The artist used her platform to vocalise her political opinions over the years.

In 2012, she presented T-shirts at London Fashion Week which said ‘I love Julian Assange’ in support of the WikiLeaks founder and called for his release from custody.

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The following year, she cut off her hair to highlight climate change issues and endorsed former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 general election.

She was awarded an OBE from the late Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 1992 but famously wore no knickers. In 1996, she received a Damehood from the then-Prince Charles for her services to fashion.

Dame Vivienne had two children, son Ben Westwood, 59, with photographer Derek Westwood, and son Joseph Corre, 55, who she shared with McLaren and is the founder of lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.

She married her former fashion student, Kronthaler, in 1992. Tributes are pouring in for Dame Vivienne, who was well-loved across various industries outside of fashion.

Chat show host Jonathan Ross said: ‘RIP the great Vivienne Westwood. Unique. Brilliant. Uncompromising. Thanks, Viv x.’

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan also wrote: ‘Vivienne Westwood was a creative icon who helped cement the UK at the very forefront of modern fashion. My thoughts are with her family and friends.’

A journalist Deborah Arthurs, who met Vivienne Westwood many times while reporting on fashion shows, recalls the designer as an unrivalled talent and a character beyond compare.

She said: ‘Attending her shows, parties and events was always a thrill – so creative, exciting. You could always just sense something unexpected was about to happen (just as unexpected as it was when she would pedal past you on her bike at Clapham Common, her flame hair flying out behind her).

‘Attempting to interview her after those shows was no mean feat. Formidable and occasionally fearsome, she held journalists to account just as she did anyone else.

‘Anyone who asked her a foolish or predictable question would be met with a withering look.

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‘The other side of the coin was her fiery, passionate enthusiasm for her trade and the industry she loved.’

Recalling a fond memory of one of her encounters with the iconic designer, Arthurs said: ‘After a few false starts and plenty of parties where I just fangirled in her vicinity, drinking in her genius from a safe distance, I finally got to interview Dame Vivienne properly after one of her London shows.

Through the sheer tenacity of a 20-something reporter, I waited hours backstage – until around one in the morning, once all the clothes had been packed away and the last afterpartier and cling-on had left the building.

Finally, Vivienne, who had previously been rather elusive to journalists that evening, giving not even a word, emerged and approached me, seemingly impressed that I was still there – the only journalist left. It was then that she gave me an interview, chatting to me about her show and her love of fashion.

‘Among many other questions, I asked her was how it compares to dressing everyday clients with the supermodels that had just walked the catwalks.

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‘Her response was typically Vivienne, summing up how much she loved all things fashion – and her respect for those who loved it as much as she did, who “got” Vivienne Westwood.

‘” My customers are the best ambassadors for my clothes”,’ Dame Westwood told her. She continued: ‘When people discover them, they seem to have an edge.’

‘Of course, her love for the everyday Westwood customer did not preclude an appreciation for the more elite brand ambassadors.

‘” Honestly, I’m very proud of my customers, but I do love to dress the supermodels”, Dame Vivienne admitted.

‘” Glamour has a sense of archetype and I adore those archetypal beauties. But fashion is only truly alive when it is being worn and talked about”.’

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‘May Vivienne Westwood’s inimitable spirit live on in the fashion she created,’ Arthurs concluded.

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