No one does Punk fashion like Vivienne Westwood. Starting out in the early seventies as a polite, well brought-up schoolteacher, Westwood soon became a fashion icon, with clothing pieces that embodied a total rejection of the establishment. Where her mother claimed to only like ‘elegant things’, Vivienne had other ideas. She and her friend Malcolm McLaren, a self-defined ‘cultural terrorist’, opened a shop at 430 Kings Road in London, and at first called ‘Let it Rock’, then ‘Too Fast To Live, Too Young to Die’. Later, they named it ‘Sex’, in scandalous pink inflatable letters outside the door. This eventually morphed into ‘Seditionaries’, and became the birthplace of anti-establishment punk rock clothing. Westwood and McLaren were causing shock waves, with clothes made out of bin bags accessorized with chains, completely revolutionizing the fashion of time.
Maggie Alderson, former editor of ‘Elle’ magazine, recalls the time she got arrested on London’s Clapham High Street, charged with obscenity. Her crime? Wearing a T-shirt that was bought from Seditionaries. This garment featured an illustration by Tom of Finland, depicting two cowboys conversing, unclothed from the waist down. Although this seems completely ridiculous now, Alderson shows that that’s the risk you faced in the seventies for wanting to express your punk-rock identity.
There was a set dress code that society expected you to uphold: women over the age of 40 were expected to dress in a way which was ‘age appropriate’ (how dull), and post-1960’s flower power men could risk getting beaten up for wearing colours deemed ‘effeminate’. Any rebellion in the form of fashion was seen as an offence towards the establishment, and punk clothing in particular was frowned upon. However, Westwood does not regret her contribution to Punk – she says: “I’m proud to have been part of it. It was heroic at the time.”