Badass Bitch of the Week is probably a bit of a misnomer for Vivienne Westwood. She is more like badass bitch of the half century. After all, Westwood has been fashion’s activist-in-chief since the ’70s, when she collaborated with her then partner, Malcolm McLaren, punk’s godfather, designing clothes for their now iconic King’s Road shop, Sex.
Consistently throughout the decades, Westwood has not only been fashion’s conscience, but also its most vocal disruptor and provocateur. A fierce critic of issues like climate change (she started the protest blog Climate Revolution), refugee rights, anti-fracking, poverty issues, water scarcity, and so on, rarely is one of her collections created without some kind of political backstory. She has come a long way since her early days as an art student and primary school teacher.
Indeed, her career has seen her acting out her core punk values via the runway and fashion, and those values include anti-authority, protest, disruption, and rebellion. She shocked the world when, in 1977, she wore t-shirt with a swastika that was combined with a cross. When outraged ensued, she hit back: “We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists.”
She went knickerless to pick up her OBE from the queen, and said later that Her Maj was rather amused by the photographs displaying the full beav. She has shown up at Downing Street to present David Cameron a box of asbestos as a Christmas gift, in protest of fracking. She cheered on her son, Joe Corré, when he burned over 5 million pounds worth of punk memorabilia on a boat in the River Thames in protest of how the current generation has watered down the punk movement. She has marched in countless protests—it’s a miracle she has never been arrested. At 76 years old, she is showing no signs of slowing down. Her rage is raw and fertile, as we discovered backstage at last week’s Men’s Spring 2018 show.
Backstage was overcrowded, hotter than hades, chaotic, and frantic, and Westwood had just voiced to her staff that she wished to stop interviews after an hour or so of wilting in the heat. Fair enough. Yet when this reporter mentioned the Paris Accord, the diminutive and frail-looking character suddenly shifted gears, became re-energized and all of a sudden appeared every inch as powerful as Wonder Woman. She then let her fury loose, and let us and everyone around us know her stand on the current state of British politics.
“Please do quote me on this,” she said, suddenly agitated and talkative. “Who I think is absolutely brilliant is Jeremy Corbyn (the leader of the U.K. Labour Party). “I think he is the only political opposition in the world to this global tragedy of a complete rip off where the poor get poorer, and the money is siphoned off to a few people.”
“Please listen,” she implored of me (ironically so, as it was impossible not to be mesmerized by her). “This is really important. The youth voted for him, and so my slogan for him is that ‘Jeremy Corbyn won the future.’ We really have to vote for him because he will be the strongest opposition to the government. They will have to do as he says because he really has power now. Maybe Britain now can lead the word of a green economy and a fair distribution of wealth, because that is what his manifesto [formal political agenda] was about, and that was what was understood.”
In true punk fashion, Westwood could not conceal her utter disdain for the current establishment and the mainstream press, two bodies that she has fought against her entire career.
“So these people, like [U.K. Prime Minister] Theresa May, they live in this official world, and they don’t understand social media. They believe in their own lies and their own hype. They are also completely supported by the press who make purposeful confusion everywhere. The only party who is not confused is Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.”
“I think there is a real surge, there is so much opposition to what is going on regarding the political systems, so many more NGOs then there used to be, everyone is trying to fight this battle,” she continued. “The issue is, we need to go through government if we can, otherwise it’s really difficult, and Corbyn is helping this surge forward. Theresa May, Trump, Barack Obama, the lot of them, they are all going backwards. They are trying to stop the clock and keep the whole rotten system going,” she said, head shaking. “It is killing us, this system is rotten and creating climate change, and it is just killing us.
Regardless of your politics, you must admit, if Westwood doesn’t count as badass, not many do. In fact, she is probably badass-hall-of-fame kinda stuff. But even if she didn’t have almost 50 years of fashionable protest behind her, she deserves this accolade for doing one of craziest things ever seen on a runway: taking her final bow on the shoulders of a beefy dancer. It was a hold-your-breath moment. A fall at the age of 76 could be life altering. But she did it with aplomb, and, well, that is worth the gong itself.