Born Vivienne Isabel Swire in the village of Tintwistle, Derbyshire on 8th April 1941, the daughter of Gordon Swire and Dora Swire (née Ball), who had married two weeks after the outbreak of World War II.
Aged 17 in 1958, Vivienne’s family moved to Harrow, London. She studied silver-smithing at Harrow School of Art, but left after one term, saying later, "I didn't know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world". After taking up a job in a factory and studying at a teacher-training college, she became a primary school teacher. During this period, she also created her own jewellery, which she would sell at a stall on Portobello Road.
In 1962, Vivienne Swire met Derek Westwood, a Hoover factory apprentice, in Harrow. They married on 21st July 1962, Westwood is reported to have made her own wedding dress, and in 1963, she gave birth to a son, Benjamin Westwood.
When she met Malcolm McLaren, it meant the end of Westwood's marriage to Derek. Westwood and McLaren moved to a council flat in Clapham and in 1967 they had a son, Joseph Corré. Westwood continued to teach until 1971 when Malcolm decided to open a boutique at 430 King's Road called "Let It Rock" (later known variously as ‘Sex’, ‘Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die’, and ‘Seditionaries’) and now Worlds End, where Westwood sells her Vivienne Westwood label clothing.
Westwood created clothes with McLaren, drawing inspiration from bikers, fetishists and prostitutes. During this period, McLaren became manager of the punk band, the Sex Pistols, and subsequently the pair gained attention as the band wore Westwood's and McLaren's designs. Westwood was one of the architects of the punk fashion phenomenon of the 1970s.
The ‘punk style’ included safety pins, razor blades, bicycle or lavatory chains on clothing and spiked dog collars for jewellery, as well as outrageous make-up and hair. Essential design elements include the adoption of traditional elements of Scottish design such as tartan fabric.
The partnership of McLaren and Westwood showed collections in Paris and London with the thematic titles such as Savages, Buffalo/Nostalgia Of Mud, Punkature, Witches, and Worlds End in 1984. After the partnership with McLaren was dissolved, Westwood showed one more collection featuring the Worlds End label: ‘Clint Eastwood.’ She employed the services of Patrick Cox to design shoes for her ‘Clint Eastwood’ collection in 1984. The result was a prototype for nine-inch-heeled shoes like the ones worn by supermodel Naomi Campbell when she fell during a Westwood fashion show in Paris in 1993.
She dubbed the period 1981 to 1985 ‘New Romantic’ and 1988 - 91 as ‘The Pagan Years’ during which ‘Vivienne’s heroes changed from punks and ragamuffins to ‘Tatler’ girls wearing clothes that parodied the upper class.’
In 1992, Westwood was awarded an OBE, which she collected from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. At the ceremony, Westwood was knicker-less, which was later captured by a photographer in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. Westwood later said, ‘I wished to show off my outfit by twirling the skirt. It did not occur to me that, as the photographers were practically on their knees, the result would be more glamorous than I expected,’ and added: “I have heard that the picture amused the Queen.” Westwood advanced from OBE to DBE in the 2006 New Year's Honours List "for services to fashion", and has twice earned the award for British Designer of the Year.
Westwood has aways been a protester, championing the causes of anti-fracking, anti-atomic weapons, bees and human rights – What a woman!