Protest in Art: Vivienne Westwood’s Most Anarchic Moments

This week at the gallery, we received an exciting delivery from Jamie Reid.

Outside of his work with the Sex Pistols, Reid is known for creating political works that, over the years, have rallied against everything from the monarchy to nuclear weapons. This got us thinking about Protest In Art and how powerful a medium art is for raising awareness, opening minds, and standing up against systems of oppression.

One artist whose entire career was an act of protest and wholly defined by rebellion was the late, great Vivienne Westwood. An iconic figure in the fashion world, over the years, Westwood repeatedly took to the streets (and the runway) to speak out against everything from industrial farming and Scottish independence, to restrictive gender norms.

 Copyright: Jo Metson Scott Contour by Getty Images

Today, in honour of her undeniable legacy and the start of London Fashion Week, we’re counting down Vivienne Westwood’s five most anarchic moments…


“We can only take democracy for granted if we insist on our liberty.”
Vivienne Westwood.


5 – Opening a Sex Shop

…well, not strictly a sex shop, but a shop named SEX nonetheless.

Westwood opened her legendary boutique on London’s Kings Road back in 1971. The store endeavoured to ‘turn fetishes into fashion statements’ and even sported the memorable tagline, ‘rubberwear for the office.’

Inspired by S&M culture, it was here that Westwood first created garments adorned in studs, chains and nipple zips and where she first put a safety pin through the Queen’s mouth on a t-shirt…and we all know how that turned out!

   Photograph: David Dagley/Rex


The shop is considered the epicentre of punk rock, with not only its fashion being born within its walls, but also some of the biggest names in punk music meeting here. The shop employed Chrissie Hynde, Glen Matlock and Sid Vicious, and John Lydon reportedly auditioned for the Sex Pistols by singing along to the shop’s jukebox.

When the band’s album, God Save the Queen, was banned from the radio, Westwood renamed the shop Seditionaries, and dressed the band in her own controversial designs. The shop may have only been the start for Westwood, but SEX was where Westwood developed punk as not only a style, but as an ethos, and a movement.


4 – Fighting Fashion

From impossibly high heels and sexy corsets, to New Romantic-chic, Westwood’s collections and catwalk shows were the stuff of legend. Always one to go against the grain, when ‘heroin-chic’ ruled the fashion world, Westwood subverted the trend by creating fashion for real women’s bodies, curves and all.

More recently, in our era of brands seemingly greenwashing left, right and centre, Westwood’s authenticity and unending commitment to putting her money where her mouth was, is what made her stand head and shoulders above the rest.  

Westwood used her brand to stand true to the causes she believed in. Her label was one of the first to renounce fur and to march with PETA. The designer also supported War Child, Amnesty International and Greenpeace, for whom she even designed their ‘Save the Arctic’ logo.


3 – Protesting at the Paralympics

Long before it became fashionable to talk sustainability, Westwood was banging that drum. She regularly encouraged people to go vegetarian, and to consume less (even if that meant discouraging people from buying her designs), and famously shaved her own head to make people sit up and take notice of climate change.

Frustrated at the lack of real action, Westwood launched Climate Revolution, her own campaign to address climate change, as a complete surprise during the London Paralympics Closing Ceremony in 2012. The designer skipped rehearsals to keep her intentions hidden, then appeared dressed as an eco-warrior, sounding a call to arms to join her movement to an enormous international audience.

Speaking of her commitment to defeating climate change, Westwood stated: “climate revolution is the ultimate revolution; if we don’t win that, there won’t be many of us left.”


2 - Forgetting her knickers

Back in 1992, Vivienne Westwood headed to Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE, there’s was just one thing she forgot…her knickers!


After receiving the honour, Westwood celebrated with a little spin, giving the paps an eyeful in the process. The Queen was said to be incredibly amused by the whole thing, so amused she promoted her to DBE in 2006.


1 – Hounding David Cameron

Westwood’s relationship with the Tories has always been contentious, particularly after she dressed as Margaret Thatcher for the cover of the April Fools edition of Tatler in 1989. The designer reportedly wore Thatcher’s own suit, and criticised the then-PM for being a ‘danger to the world’.


Westwood kicked things up a notch in 2014 when she ruined David Cameron’s Christmas by turning up to Number 10 to deliver a box of asbestos. Sporting a Santa hat and accompanied by a gas mask-wearing Father Christmas, Westwood was there to protest fracking. She accused Cameron of playing Russian Roulette with the lives of the British public in what she dubbed the then Prime Minister’s ‘grand experiment’.


Photo: Getty Images 


Of course, Cameron didn’t listen, and so the following year, Westwood descended on his Oxfordshire home, this time in a tank, demanding ‘a regime change.’ Now there’s a way to make people sit up and take notice!


Westwood will forever be an inspiration to us all to stand up for the causes we believe in, and to keep creating art that changes the world.