The death of British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has come as a shock not only to the fashion industry, but to pop culture as a whole. Through her designs and activism, Westwood had a profound impact on pop culture of the past few decades.
From her first show in 1981, the Pirate Collection, Westwood subverted traditional fashion conventions. Inspired by fashion history, she played with historical styles such as corsetry and crinoline, and created innovative garments that will continue to influence fashion in the future. As well as being a leader in transgressive design, Westwood has also left a legacy of fashion activism. Never afraid to speak her mind, she was a vocal voice against capitalism and the decline of the environment. For Westwood, fashion was a way to engage people in politics and other social issues.
With the designer’s death, many wondered what would happen to the brand when the eponymous designer was no longer at the helm. Westwood always had a very strong and unique vision, which could well be lost with her death. A number of brands have managed to retain the creative genius of their founder even after their death, such as Christian Dior or Alexander McQueen. In Dior’s case, after his death in 1957, he was succeeded by Yves Saint Laurent, who worked under his predecessor for two years. John Galliano and, more recently, Maria Grazia Churi, have also worked for the house. But with each change, Dior has retained its signature Dior style and original vision. Likewise, Sarah Burton, who designed for Alexander McQueen for 14 years, took over as the brand’s creative director after the designer’s death. Burton ensured that the drama and extravagance that defined McQueen’s work continues today.
As with Dior and McQueen, Westwood’s legacy is in the hands of a designer who has worked closely with her for many years, in this case her husband, Andreas Kronthaler. Through their personal and creative partnership, they met through a shared vision for the Westwood brand and a passion for design, art history and inspiring future generations. Recently, Kronthaler took on the role of creative director, overseeing the design of Westwood’s collections, leaving Westwood with more time for other matters. Perhaps you could have guessed something when, not long ago, at the last Spring/Summer 2023 Paris show, Westwood was conspicuously absent, and Kronthaler took on the role of walking down the runway to accept flowers at the end. In a statement after Westwood’s death, Kronthaler said, “I will continue with Vivienne in my heart… We worked together to the end, and she gave me so much to work with. Thank you, darling.” Westwood has created a brand that is unique, always radical and rebellious, and through Kronthaler’s creative vision, there is hope that Westwood’s spirit will live on. Westwood’s story is compelling, radical, and sometimes controversial. There is a spirit of rebellion in her work, and there is hope that with Kronthaler this spirit will continue.