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Malcolm McLaren was a major force behind the punk sound that emerged from London in the mid 1970’s. While it can be disputed whether or not it was McLaren who came up with the concept for his protegee band, the Sex Pistols, or if it was the band members themselves (i.e., Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious) no one can dispute that it was his partner Vivienne Westwood who actually created and sewed the looks that the band wore. By studying the fashions of London’s seedier occupants like bikers and sex workers, Westwood and McLaren conceptualized the new deconstructionist fashion phenomenon known as the “punk look”.

Westwood with Malcolm McLaren

Westwood and McLaren’s store in London, circa 1975

The Sex Pistols, Westwood in 1977

Her iconic angry fashions with their safety pins, razor blades, dog collars, and chains spoke to an entire generation of alienated kids. Whether it was the bad economy in England, the recent breakdown of traditional values, or a backlash against the hippie zeitgeist, what caused the punk movement is something that has been widely debated. I just know as an angry young punk in the early 80’s that I WANTED a pair of those cool chained, belted, and zippered plaid “bondage” pants. I never did get a pair and had to make do with draping my torn jeans with lots of belts!

McLaren and Westwood’s iconic “Bondage” suits

The “Bondage” jacket

Not only did Ms. Westwood create “the punk look” but she also went on to design the “New Romantic” pirate look that came after which was worn by the likes of Adam Ant . She also outfitted clothing for the pop fashion icon Boy George. Vivienne Westwood is still designing today to much critical acclaim, although her clientele is a lot more affluent these days.

Adam Ant, Boy George

Some of Dame Westwood’s looks on the runway

Clockwise from left: Linda Evangelista on the runway for the Anglomania A/W ‘93 show, design circa 1993, Naomi Campbell in Westwood’s 10 inch platform shoes, the shoes, Harlequin from the Voyage to Cythera collection A/W ’90

Westwood’s recent retrospective at the FIT Museum in New York

For someone who only spent one year in fashion school and who taught herself how to make the corsets and iconoclastic clothing which made her famous, this designer has made a lasting impression. At 70 years old this is what she had to say about todays young generation in a recent Wall Street Journal article:

“Now I don’t put any faith in youth. I do to the extent that they are always idealistic, but the last lot of them have been brought up to be heavy consumers.”

I’m sure Ms. Westwood would agree that is all the more reason for we sewers to be “sewing evangelists!”


After moving from Los Angeles to an old farmhouse in the country with her husband and four children, Justine Abbitt, a trained fashion designer, found shopping outside the city rather uninspiring, not to mention difficult, so she decided to get busy with her needle and thread to start making things for herself and her family. Looking to get in touch with other DIYers, she started her sewing blog, Sewcountrychick, which is also about country living through an ex-urbanists perspective.

Photos courtesy of The Fashion Spot and Google images.


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    Feb 1, 2012, 08.43 AMby b5733642

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    Apr 14, 2011, 03.49 PMby ruthw

    Justine, you say, " I just know as an angry young punk in the early 80’s that I WANTED a pair of those cool chained, belted, and zippered plaid “bondage” pants. I never did get a pair and had to make do with draping my torn jeans with lots of belts!"

    But that was the whole point of punk – it was demystifying, it was DIY. Anybody could pick up a guitar and have a go, and anyone could rip their clothes, dye their hair and put pins and chains through everything.

    That’s the irony of her comment. She’s “selling” what should be DIY and then criticising people for buying it. But that was another aspect of punk – no requirement for any consistency at all – no rules!

    Having said that, their is a cultural awareness and sheer “cleverness” to her work which is really attractive. Plus she does seem to be the only designer that really does prefer models to look like real women (in all shapes and sizes) and not tall skinny adolescent boys with silicon insertions over their pecs.

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      Apr 16, 2011, 10.35 PMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

      I know it is ironic to think that back then I thought I was being really original but I was actually being manipulated by the fashion industry. Punk had already become commidified by the 80’s. We used to buy most of our stuff at thrift shops and redo them ourselves because we had no money but the kids with money always wore those bondage pants which were like 80 dollars in 1983.

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    Apr 14, 2011, 03.18 AMby carolyn-s

    This is a brilliant article thank you so much for this! Vivienne Westwood is so inspiring. I love her work, she’s a true original and could never be accused of ever being boring. I was a bit young for the punk movement, but the new Romantics influenced me hugely, like everyone else of my age group… Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, they all had that same look, the dressed up romantic pirate look that was fun and irreverent. We all went about with feathers in our hair and little black leather skirts and oversized white shirts were de riguer!

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      Apr 16, 2011, 10.37 PMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

      Yes carolyn let’s bring back some of those New Romantic looks.it seems that style has been resurfacing lately.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 03.33 PMby victors

    A lot of the stuff she sells is badly made from cheap feeling fabrics. If I ever felt the wild urge to spend £135 on a t shirt I would want it to last more than one wash. That said I do love her designs. She never married Malcolm , they had a child, Joe Corre (Agent Provocateur co-founder) but weren’t married.

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    Apr 13, 2011, 11.25 AMby jay283

    The girl accomplished a lot, but let’s be real. The SEX store and the Sex Pistols outfits were a “selling thing”, the goal was to make the youth buy this style. (and with what she’s doing now, tell me she don’t want people to be heavy consumers!) On the other side of the punk history, on the New York scene, bands like the Ramones didn’t need elaborated outfits, or anything, everything was about the music. Still, Westwood sure help to bring that “recycling” spirit into the punk style and hey! 30 years from now the look is still almost the same so she sure make something right!

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    Apr 13, 2011, 11.21 AMby Danièle Tort

    What a fantastic article Justine. I was once in the Sex boutique in London. Vivien sure inspired so many people to actually create clothes themselves. When I was a punk I made many of my clothes, and one of the articles of clothing I really loved making was a thin black tie made out of a very shiny black tablecloth. I did a lot of stenciling and ripping and safety pinning at that stage too :-) She did to sewing what the Ramones did to music, a true revolutionary.

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      Apr 16, 2011, 10.42 PMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

      I know Daniele, I didn’t even know who she was till I was much older. It’s interesting to think how impressionable kids are and how a designer can have so much infuence on someone. It’s like the chicken and the egg thing. Would it have happened if the whole Sex Pistols thin didn’t occur? Yes because there were other bands but it might have looked different.I think the whole Mohawk plaid look did come from there. The Ramones NY style was more rock and roll looking.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.01 PMby heyboo

    I love her work and her view of life. So inspiring.

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