Dame Vivienne Westwood’s Mark On African Fashion

Vivienne Westwood, was the godmother of punk and her life is one that must be celebrated not just for her creativity but for her ingenuity, philanthropy and tenacity. The British fashion designer was known for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream. She viewed punk as a way of “seeing if one could put a spoke in the system”

Her career in fashion began with her and McLaren, future manager of punk band The Sex Pistols, operating a stall selling second hand 1950’s vintage clothing as well as Mclaren’s rock and roll record collection under the name Let it Rock. Westwood, a self taught designer produced designs based on McLaren’s provocative ideas.Their boutique which they became proprietors of in 1971 named first Too fast to live-then Too Young to Die -then Sex and Finally Seditionaries. They sold their customised T-shirts which were ripped and emblazoned with shocking antiestablishment slogans and graphics as well as they bondage trousers flew of the shelves of their store being the epitome of Punk style.

Westwood had an impressive track record of producing climate conscious clothing part of which was her project right here in Kenya with her made in Kenya collection for autumn/winter 2022. With a focus on material sourcing her accessories collection which consisted of bags, bucket hats, and charms that were handmade using unloved leftovers and fixed with hardware that morphs scrap parts from old recycled ups, padlocks and fridge part into Westwood’s paraphernalia.

In August of 2022 Vivienne Westwood launched from Nairobi a collection of bags called “Handmade with Love” as well as filming her autumn campaign in Nairobi. The program created by the International Trade Centre (ITC), a joint UN and World Trade Organisation body, involved 5,000 people in Kenya, 90% of which were women, mostly from disadvantaged or isolated communities in nairobi. The goal of the project was “not charity, just work”. The men and women involved were trained in building existing skills such as sewing and tailoring, and benefitted the fashion house as well as it allowed them to get unique products and also gave them a beautiful story of responsibility to tell by giving to the community.

A turning point in her career was Westwood’s “mini-crini” design, a thigh grazing crinoline produced in both cotton and tweed that was part of her spring/summer 1985 collection. The designer in the next two decades took inspiration from classic sources when creating her collections. Most notably she took inspiration from historical british dress such as the 19th century bustle, which she incorporated under elaborate knitwear dresses and tartan mini skirts.

Independently, Vivianne Westwood built her own fashion empire as both a business woman and a fashion designer, operating numerous boutiques and producing two menswear and three womenswear collections annually as well as bridal clothes, shoes, hosiery, eyewear, scarves, ties, knitwear, cosmetics and perfumes. Westwood’s designs were also notably featured in the 2008 film adaptation of the television series Sex and the City, for a wedding dress worn by the infamous character Carrie Bradshaw.

The Westwood look is timeless, as punk is not a trend to just be filed away in the 1970’s it still exists today and can be seen in street style as it is street style itself. Therefore the appreciation for all her remarkable work is a gift we must remember even when she is no longer here with us. 

“Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well”- Vivienne Westwood

Add your comment