Born Vivienne Isabel Swire in Glossop, Derbyshire, on April 8, 1941, Vivienne Westwood is one of the most influential and recognisable British designers of the past 20 years. She began designing clothes in 1971 with the opening of her first shop, Let It Rock, at 430 King's Road. The shop underwent several changes of name and style until it emerged in 1974 under name of Sex, a boutique selling bondage gear, ripped T-shirts and other attire that became synonymous with the punk explosion.
In 1976, her then lover and business partner, Malcolm McLaren, guaranteed her status among the stars when he dressed the Sex Pistols, the British band he managed, in clothes from the boutique. By the time the punk storm had passed at the end of the Seventies, Westwood was already recognised as a frontrunner among fashion's avant-garde.
In 1981, Westwood showed her first collection in London, entitled Pirate. The show put her firmly on the fashion map as an original and unusual design talent. In 1983, she showed in Paris (the first British designer to do so since Mary Quant) and in 1984 her clothes shared catwalk space with those of Calvin Klein and Gianfranco Ferré in Tokyo, where she is still now best loved. Her uncompromising and often provocative designs long continued to hit the headlines, securing a global audience for her clothes.
In 1990, by now more concerned with haute couture than streetstyle, Westwood launched a menswear collection in Florence. In the same year, she was named British Designer of the Year, a feat she repeated in 1991. The following December, she was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to British fashion. Her use of quintessentially British wools, tweeds, tartans and linens continues to make her a byword for British style and quality abroad; and in 1998 she won the Queen's Export Award.
Among other honours, Westwood also was awarded a place in the Victoria & Albert museum, with the indigo mock croc lace-up platform boots that famously toppled Naomi Campbell on the catwalk in 1993. When in 1999 Queen Elizabeth II went to view the collection, wearing sensible court shoes, she was heard to mutter: "I'm not surprised she fell."
As one of the most curious creatures this country has produced, among her eccentricities is a desire to seem to live a modest life. She regularly cycles into work. And, despite being awarded £17,530 by Lambeth Council and the Heritage Lottery fund to renovate her 300-year-old home in the historic Old Town area of Clapham (which once belonged to Captain Cook's mother), Westwood claims that she and her husband, Andreas Kronthaler, share their home with very little furniture. "All I've got at home are two second-hand armchairs, a trestle table, a fridge and a cooker," she once said.
Westwood's son by McLaren, Joe Corre, is the founder of Agent Provocateur.