A Spoke in the System: The Legacy of Vivienne Westwood By Quynbi Ada

Posted by Christine Flick on

The exquisite work of Vivienne Westwood has been a major influence on the aesthetic of punk rock, the fashion industry, and the world at large.

She has left an indelible mark on many of the greats, including Matrushka’s owner/designer, Laura Howe.

Beyond her global influence, Vivienne Westwood was a massive inspiration for the styles at Matrushka Construction, along with so many other designers and rebels. It’s easy to see the similarities between Matrushka and Westwood in the plaid bomber jackets, oversized hoods, faux fur lined jackets and plaid highwaters, and stripes that Matrushka makes so expertly.

The t-shirt screen prints with confrontational statements on them seem to be a direct homage to Westwood back in London, circa 1970s, with a modern relevance. Thus, if you are a rude or a nasty woman, you may consider sporting one of these Matrushka casual classics. And let’s not forget about the safety pin tank top, which gives an elevated, modern nod to those most holy of pioneering punk rockers.

As a rowdy young punk coming up in the early 1990s, I already knew I had been born too late, which is a little ironic as this era was when Vivienne Westwood was at the height of her powers. Though I defiantly sported safety pins and hose clamps upon various parts of my flesh, along with a colorful spiked mohawk and combat boots up to my knees, I lacked peers. I listened to all the old school bands, but somehow it wasn’t quite right. I seemed to have shown up too late for the party, having missed OG punk’s cultural zeitgeist in all its anti-glory. Oh well.

The punk uniform grew out of the streets of London in the 1960s and 1970s, nurtured largely by Westwood and her counterpart Malcolm McLearan. Fashion and music were symbiotically linked at their store called SEX on King’s Road, which promoted Mclearen’s then up and coming band: the Sex Pistols. The boutique’s name would change each time they introduced a new line of clothes.

The London youth used music and fashion to respond to political and social issues, a tradition carried on to this day. Westwood never stopped using her voice through high fashion and activism. Some of the issues she devoted to in her later years were climate change, civil rights, and nuclear disarmament. Clothes were a tool, a voice for “putting a spoke in the system, ” as she explained.

Simply put, Westwood is one of the most influential British designers of all time. Often credited with the punk iconography of the safety pin, she made edgy jewelry from them back at King’s Road. Somehow though, it is rumored that she denies birthing this trend.

From irreverent pirates to mini crinis, Vivienne Westwood had much to say to the fashion monolith. She deservedly experienced wild success, including a commission to design inclusive uniforms for Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline. True to her passions, she was also devoted to reducing her brand’s climate footprint as much as possible. Just like Matrushka.

My personal love song to Vivienne Westwood came in the form of a 1985 mini-crini inspired Night Garden costume for a lavish ball at which I performed. The year was 2018, and this was an aerial-friendly getup we designed that included a harness hidden beneath the crini, complete with invisible rigging lines extending above. My partner Eric and I danced an aerial waltz in pirate masks that night, and it was pure magic.

So as the world mourns the passing of a great visionary, designer, and activist, Dame Vivienne Westwood, we can also revel in the many decades of her groundbreaking work, which has now become her legacy, her gift to us all. Let us celebrate a well-lived life and take her lessons to heart. She moves onward through Matrushka in the genius of her art.

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