LONDON - Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at 81.
Westwood's eponymous fashion house announced her death on social media platforms, saying she died peacefully in South London surrounded by friends and family. A cause of death was not disclosed in the statement.
Westwood’s fashion career began in the 1970s with the punk explosion, when her radical approach to urban street style took the world by storm. But she went on to enjoy a long career highlighted by a string of triumphant runway shows in London, Paris, Milan and New York.
The name Westwood became synonymous with style and attitude even as she shifted focus from year to year. Her range was vast and her work was never predictable.
As her stature grew, she seemed to transcend fashion, with her designs shown in museum collections throughout the world. The young woman who had scorned the British establishment eventually became one of its leading lights, and she used her elite position to lobby for environmental reforms even as she kept her hair dyed the bright shade of orange that became her trademark.
Vivenne Westwood walks the runway at the Vivenne Westwood show during the London Fashion Week Men's June 2017 collections on June 12, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, said Westwood would be celebrated for pioneering the punk look, pairing a radical fashion approach with the anarchic punk sounds developed by the Sex Pistols, managed by her then-partner, Malcolm McLaren.
"They gave the punk movement a look, a style, and it was so radical it broke from anything in the past," he said. "The ripped shirts, the safety pins, the provocative slogans. She introduced postmodernism. It was so influential from the mid-70s. The punk movement has never dissipated — it’s become part of our fashion vocabulary. It’s mainstream now."
Westwood’s long career was full of contradictions: She was a lifelong rebel who was honored several times by Queen Elizabeth II. She dressed like a teenager even in her 60s and became an outspoken advocate of fighting global warming, warning of planetary doom if climate change was not controlled.