The buccaneering designer who changed everything was memorialised at London’s Southwark Cathedral
“If in doubt, dress up,” were the words that closed out the invitation to Vivienne Westwood’s memorial service, which took place this afternoon (February 16) at London’s Southwark Cathedral.
It was a message that guests like Kate Moss, Beth Ditto, and Marc Jacobs took to heart, and evident as they piled into the space and took their seats. “Bodies wear out, but spirits don’t,” said Helena Bonham-Carter when she stood in front of the audience to speak on the designer’s fashion legacy, and in their billowing Pirate shirts and towering platforms, waist-cinching cocotte corsets and crinolines, and endless strings of glossy pearls punctuated by that iconic Orb, friends, family, and a huge swathe of the world’s fashion community brought a little of her spirit along with them in the clothes on their backs.
Kicked off by the Arnfield Brass Band, who were bussed down from an area not far from the Derbyshire village where Westwood was born, the packed out memorial saw family members, admirers, collaborators, and friends take to the stand, to pay final tribute to a woman who changed it all. Husband Andreas Kronthaler singled out a sweet story about the early days of their romance, when the two visited an art gallery in Vienna. With the late designer showing up in a brown velvet catsuit and a pair of Rocking Horse boots, a skinny scarf slung round her hips, and a hot pink leopard faux fur coat on her shoulders, Kronthaler recalled looking at her at a certain point and thinking: “That’s my darling girl, and I would be with her forever.”
Also speaking were two of her three sons, Joe Corré and Ben Westwood, with Corré regaling the audience with stories of his time as a kid, when Westwood’s former students – from the time she taught in a primary school – turned up at their door clutching bunches of flowers to thank her for her dedication. “They were these big burly men by now, and I’d be like ‘what do you want with my mum,” he said. Performances came via Nick Cave, who sat down at a grand piano in the middle of the church and sang “Into My Arms”, and longtime friend Chrissie Hynde, who worked in Westwood’s first boutique SEX in the 1970s. The Pretenders singer performed an emotional version of Buddy Holly’s “Raining In My Heart”, her pure, low voice reverberating around the space.
Westwood herself also made an appearance, in a short film her brother Gordon Swire had worked on in the months before her death. The designer discussed her ‘great friend’, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was unable to be present as he is still being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison, as well as her endless crusade against climate injustice, which she continued right up until her passing. “I would ask her who she was, and she would say ‘I am an activist, I’m a teacher, I’m an artist’, and she’d shrug her shoulders and say ‘and I’m a designer I suppose,’” said Westwood’s granddaughter Cora Corré, when the time came for her to speak.
Beyond this, Westwood also talked about her childhood growing up in the North of England, describing Derbyshire and the windswept Yorkshire Dales and Moors as ”the most beautiful places in the world”. She talked about how much she loved skipping as a kid – ”It felt like flying,” she recalled – and the local dances she went to as childhood evolved into adolescence. She was popular with the boys, she revealed, snogging over 200 of them in disused air raid shelters drunk on whisky, and had a bunch of photos of herself printed so she could present each one with a memento from the evening. It was sweet and touching: a poignant reminder of her straight-talking approach, so rare in the fashion industry. “She went from punk to dame, without compromising an inch,” said Bonham-Carter.
The memorial wasn’t just a moment to remember Westwood, however. It was also a powerful manifesto for her legacy, with a common thread of activism running through each speech. All of those standing up on the podium implored the audience to continue her life’s work now she was no longer able to, to stand up for injustice in all its forms, and to use the tool we are so privileged to have: our voices. Greenpeace director John Sauven recalled the time she rode a tank up to David Cameron’s house in protest of the government’s plans to begin fracking in the UK, and there were flashes of her stint inside a gold gilded cage outside the Old Bailey, where she protested Assange’s continued imprisonment. Sauven also paid tribute to the ‘Anti-Fracking Nanas’ of Lancashire, with whom Westwood was close, and who will now continue their mission in her wake.
“Bodies wear out, but spirits don’t” – Helena Bonham-Carter
It’s hard to really sum up Westwood’s impact on fashion and the wider world, but for many people congregating in the cathedral yesterday, she was the blueprint – the person who lit a fire in our bellies and made us want to infiltrate fashion in the first place. Her legacy, of course, does not end here, with Westwood already inspiring a new generation in an age when we have never been so overwhelmed with information and options, and when fashion has become as much a business of entertainment as it is about simply making clothes. “(My old) Westwood has made me cool in the eyes of my teenage daughter,” laughed Bonham-Carter towards the end of her speech, noting that you don’t get much more powerful than that. Though now only her spirit remains, Westwood has a lot of life in her yet.