Vivienne Westwood’s top ten political moments

The iconoclast turned 74 this week – we celebrate by revisiting her lifetime of rebellion, including taking over Dazed and getting naked for PETA

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Westwood at thatcher for Tatler’s April 1989 cover
"This woman was once a punk" – Westwood as Thatcher for Tatler’s April 1989 cover

Dame Vivienne Westwood, the doyenne of British fashion, has time and again used the runway (and the street) as a platform to voice her outspoken views on politics, tackling everything from restrictive gender normsfracking and industrial farming to Scottish independence, Wikileaks and Margaret Thatcher. To celebrate her 74th birthday today and the launch of our new State of the Nation issue – packed full of opinionated Brits just in time for the upcoming election – we count down Westwood’s 10 most memorable political moments.

PROVOKING PEOPLE WITH PUNK

Emblazoned with a bold red Nazi swastika, an inverted image of Christ on the cross, the word “DESTROY,” and Sex Pistols lyrics, this anarchic 1977 shirt epitomised Westwood and partner Malcolm McLaren’s trailblazing brand of punk politics. Westwood has said that the shirt – undoubtedly one of her most controversial creations – was about standing up to horrific dictators around the world who were torturing people, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. More broadly, it was a means of challenging the older generation, of saying “We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists.” The shirt was sold at their iconic SEX store on the King’s Road.

TAKING OVER DAZED

“Get a Life!” exclaimed Westwood from the pages of Dazed’s July 2008 issue, as the maverick took the magazine’s reins for a special Active Resistance edition. Fronted by a child eco-warrior cover star, the issue addressed many of the political concerns closest to the grand dame’s heart: inciting readers to think about rising sea levels, to embrace higher culture such as art, and to turn a blind eye to propaganda. In short, it was all about subverting the status quo, and becoming (as Westwood aptly put it) a “freedom fighter” in the process.

VOTING GREEN

“VOTE GREEN” was the simple, emphatic directive emblazoned across the top of the show notes at Westwood’s Red Label AW15 show. The manifesto went on to say that we are currently “controlled by the 1% of the world population who are in power. They preach consumption, and they preach war, and they’re taking us into disaster. We are in incredible danger. There is no point in voting for the others.” Westwood made a similarly powerful statement for men in her AW15 menswear show, where models with severely bruised faces channelled eco-warriors on a mission to save the planet (in a nod to the efforts of Prince Charles). Earlier this year, it was reported that Westwood was donating £300,000 to the Green Party.

PROTESTING AT THE PARALYMPICS 

Westwood launched Climate Revolution (her campaign to address climate change issues) in spectacular fashion at the 2012 London Paralympics closing ceremony. Having skipped the dress rehearsals in order to keep her intentions cloaked, the designer sounded a call to arms when, dressed as an eco-warrior standing atop her float, she unfurled a giant black-and-white “CLIMATE REVOLUTION” banner. Westwood subsequently told Dazed that the “climate revolution is the ultimate revolution; if we don’t win that, there won’t be many of us left.” Her more recent acts of support for the cause include cutting off her famous red locks, donating £1 million to rainforest charity Cool Earth, and gathering together celebs in aid of Greenpeace’s ‘Save The Arctic’ work.  

STRIPPING OFF FOR PETA

The dame appeared in a shower cap and little else for a PETA video in support of vegetarianism. Shower head in hand (the implication being perhaps that vegetarians can take guilt-free showers), Westwood implored viewers to avoid meat in order to preserve the world’s water supply – as many of our rivers are being diverted to fuel “miserable” factory farms and grow massive amounts of grain used to feed animals. She concluded by saying that avoiding meat will “do more for the environment than recycling or driving a hybrid car.”

COVERING TATLER AS THATCHER

In 1989 Westwood mocked then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by impersonating her on the cover of Tatler (she even donned a suit that Thatcher had ordered but not yet collected). The image, taken for the April Fools edition of the magazine and bearing an uncanny likeness to The Iron Lady, was subsequently blown up on billboards across London for Fashion Week. A few days after the edition was published, the magazine’s editor, Emma Soames, was sacked. Westwood has always been unreserved when voicing her opinion of Thatcher – years later on her blog she would label her a “hypocrite,” adding that she has done “real damage” to the world.

PROMOTING ETHICAL FASHION

In 2011, Westwood took to the streets of Nairobi for her Ethical Fashion Africa campaign, aiming to empower female workers. The dame designed a range of bags, which were made by women in the capital city under ethical labour conditions (using discarded materials such as safari tents and old shirts). Although dismissed by some as poverty porn, Westwood described her actions as “not charity, just work,” noting that the project “gives people control over their lives,” unlike charity, which “makes them dependant.” 

BRINGING DAVID CAMERON A CHRISTMAS PRESENT

In December last year, with Santa hat on head, the designer pluckily delivered a letter and a box of asbestos to 10 Downing Street – suggesting that fracking (the controversial practice of extracting gas by drilling into subterranean rock) will be the next big public killer. Westwood said that David Cameron was “playing Russian roulette with the lives of the British public,” adding that we’re all just “guinea pigs” in the Prime Minister’s “grand experiment.” Westwood has been fiercely opposed to fracking for some time, and last year she led the London Fracked Future march and attended an anti-fracking protest outside Balcombe.

PROTESTING ANTI-TERROR LAWS WITH T-SHIRTS

“I AM NOT A TERRORIST, please don’t arrest me.” The words are scrawled in childlike writing next to a red heart, on what has become one of Westwood’s most iconic tees. Created in 2005 – a few short months after the shooting of innocent man Jean Charles de Menezes in London – in collaboration with civil rights group Liberty, it was a bid to confront the government’s proposed anti-terror legislation, which, among other things, allowed three months detention for suspects without charge. Westwood said at the time: “We can only take democracy for granted if we insist on our liberty.” All profits went to charity.

SAYING ‘YES’ TO SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE

Westwood was vehemently pro-Scottish independence in the lead up to last year’s referendum, with her Red Label SS15 show sending models down the catwalk wearing ‘YES’ badges (the designer would also don one to take her bow). After the show, Westwood – who is English – told The Independent: “I hate England. I like Scotland because somehow I think they are better than we are. They are more democratic.” She also released a video urging Scots to vote ‘Yes’ in order to “break the deadlock and march into the future.”

Watch Westwood discuss the importance of protest in the film below, the third of four Dazed shorts created for our Vivienne Westwood takeover day:

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