The obituaries have all been published long ago, I know. What has not yet been sufficiently appreciated is the morbid grace with which Vivienne Westwood (April 8, 1941 – December 29, 2022) said goodbye to her life. Please watch the five-minute video message the fashion and punk icon had her brother Gordon record shortly before her death on the Vivienne Westwood Foundation’s YouTube channel.
It was uploaded for the UN Climate Change Conference COP 27 in November. It’s Westwood’s last video. You can see the 81-year-old sitting in her bed, already clearly weakened, propped up and supported by white pillows. She reads her message, slowly, strongly. She castigates capitalism for its disastrous environmental record – she has done so again and again in recent years. He brings “short term cash in exchange for no future,” she says, and the reference to the punk slogan “No Future” from the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” is probably intentional.
symbol of impermanence
She also wears a blatant outfit, namely a wide-shouldered nightgown that could just as easily be a shroud. It is printed on the front with a portrait photo of her wearing skull and crossbones make-up. The video is like a vanitas still life with the double Westwood. Above she warns, near death, of the climate apocalypse, further down she grins, as a symbol of transience, towards her own end, according to the motto: “I fuck my death, luckily I don’t have to face the catastrophes of the future anymore experience, and my fashion legacy is everlasting.”
What an insane punk gesture this video is! If you look closely, you can even see that Westwood’s shroud is held together at the shoulders by safety pins. safety pins! Sure, there are also punk historians who recall that Richard Hell was said to be the first to pin his torn outfits together in New York in 1974, so Malcolm McLaren and Westwood as a team no longer invent this look in London, but with that the Sex Pistols and their “Sex” shop just had to popularize.
But honestly, without Westwood you wouldn’t immediately think of punk and its special mix of broken-is-beautiful, I-didn’t-care and can-it-hurt-a-little-bit when you saw safety pins today? think. Today, fashion is once again teeming with safety pins, metal grommets, zippers, and bondage references (see opposite). It’s part of her legacy.
This column first appeared in the Musikexpress issue 03/2023.