Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die

Self-taught designer Vivienne Westwood quickly rose to success in the 70s and has sustained her relevance with unique silhouettes and widespread influence.

Many individuals label Westwood as the “Mother of Punk”, but the punk movement grew out of the despondent public as a result of the declining economic and political conditions in 1970s England, as an article by the Metropolitan Museum of Art explains. The article goes on to explain how Westwood contributed to the cultivation of the punk aesthetic, but crediting the designer with starting the movement would be an oversimplification.

Before Westwood was a designer, she worked as a school teacher and was married to Derek Westwood until 1965, when the two divorced. Later that year she met the future manager of the Sex Pistols Malcolm McLaren in London. The two started dating and then began a creative partnership. Initially, they pursued a career in fashion together, opening a secondhand store called Let It Rock, featuring 1950s clothing and some of McLaren’s extensive record collection. Over the years, the store’s name changed to Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, to Sex and finally to Seditionaries, but the rock and roll influence stayed the same.

Westwood began modifying T-shirts to sell in the store with rips and scandalous graphics and creating bondage-style trousers, inspired by the dissident and provocative nature of rock and roll music. Their countercultural references became very popular with London youth, and eventually the popularity of Westwood’s suggestive designs angered the conservative British media. Fueled by the success of their store, Westwood and McLaren released their first commercial ready-to-wear collection titled Pirates in 1981. The collection revolved around baggy silhouettes that contrasted heavily with the popular tight-fit at the time. That same year the couple ended their relationship, but Westwood continued to rise in the fashion world.

Westwood’s signature orb may not be one of the most well-known brand logos, but the ornate design makes it unique and recognizable. According to an article written by Westwood’s son Ben Westwood, the orb logo was conceived in 1985 when his mother was designing a collection inspired by royalty. Westwood explains how his mother was creating a sweater for this collection featuring royal motifs, including the coat of arms, the crown, and the Sovereign Orb from the crown jewels. He had given his mother a few astronomy magazines, including ones that highlighted Saturn and its rings, which inspired Westwood to add a satellite ring to make the orb look more futuristic. While designing this collection, Westwood hired a few designers to help her find a logo to represent her growing brand, but when Westwood’s friend Carlo D’Amario saw the orb design on the sweater, he encouraged her to make it her brand logo. D’Amario felt the combination flawlessly represented her desire to modernize tradition. The final orb logo resembles the Sovereign Orb, and the addition of the satellite ring gives the logo a celestial touch.

The Sovereign Orb is a symbol of a ruler’s supremacy. The Royal Collection Trust explains that the actual orb is a hollow sphere of gold, with bands of emeralds, sapphires, rubies, diamonds and pearls, with a diamond cross at the top. The orb is placed in the monarch’s right hand during the coronation ceremony. In 1992 Westwood was made a dame, which is the female equivalent to the rank of a knight in the British Empire. Even though this was well after the formulation of the logo, the orb is also thought to symbolize her connection with British Royalty.

Unlike many other designer brands, very little of the clothing that Westwood releases features her logo, and it is very seldom monogrammed on anything. However, the orb is a key feature in a lot of her jewelry and accessories, and can be found faceted in between strings of pearls, or embossed on a clutch.

Over the years, Westwood has remained a voice of activism, but her cause has shifted with the times. As one of the few remaining independent global fashion houses, Vivienne Westwood has taken up the responsibility of producing ethically-sourced and environmentally friendly clothing. The brand started a campaign called Quality V Quantity that discourages overconsumption and encourages the purchasing of higher quality garments that will last longer than fast fashion pieces, as the Vivienne Westwood website explains. The brand has also transitioned to the use of sustainable fabrics, such as hemp, and uses environmentally friendly dyes to avoid long term damage to the planet. Westwood was also a part of a 2013 campaign that raised money for Greenpeace to halt the practice of drilling for oil in the Arctic. The brand designed t-shirts to advertise the campaign and then donated 100% of the proceeds to Greenpeace. Currently, the brand’s website also has a donation link for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom to help with COVID-19.

The brand’s immaculate clothing and support for relevant issues makes it easy to see why their pieces are coveted by fashion lovers everywhere.

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