The Seventies Punks: Vivienne Westwood & Debbie Harry

Music and fashion have always fed off of each other, and there are few finer examples of this than the punk movement of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

During this time, rock music was dominated by big arena shows; complete with polished and packaged bands strutting the stage with big hair, tight pants, and huge egos. 

Punk was an underground reaction to this excessive spectacle; a stripped down angry sound with a distinctive distressed look and a distrust for authority. It became one of the most unique and lasting subcultures of the 20th century.

 In fact, the term “punk rock” was originally coined by American critics to describe the garage band culture that was rising at the time, a sound that served as precursor to what we now know simply as “punk”. 

And no one had a bigger impact on the movement’s look than Vivienne Westwood.

 Dame Vivienne Westwood: The Mother of Punk 

Dame Vivienne Isabel Westwood (née Swire) was born April 8, 1941 in the village of Tintwistle, Cheshire. Eventually her family moved to Harrow, Middlesex, and Vivienne enrolled in a jewelry and silversmith course at the University of Westminster. But her foray into higher education was not to last. She 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”.

In 1962, Vivienne married Derek Westwood, a vacuum factory apprentice. For the ceremony, Westwood designed and made her own wedding dress. (We’ve been scouring the internet for a picture of it but haven’t tracked one down. If you find one, please share it with us!) 

But Vivienne’s fashion career truly began when she met Malcolm McLaren in 1965. She was 25 and he was 20. Her marriage to Westwood ended at this point, but she did keep his last name.


Fun Fashion Fact: The Westwoods are a  family of fashion founders – Vivienne and Malcom’s son, Joe Corre is the founder of iconic lingerie brand Agent Provocateur and currently owns menswear label Child of the Jago.

 

In 1971, Westwood and McLaren opened their shop “Let It Rock” (renamed “SEX” in 1974) at 430 King’s Road. It was both scandalous and successful, bringing fetish wear to the mainstream and launching strange new looks that attracted everyone from Chrissie Hynde to Iggy Pop, Adam Ant, Jerry Hall and Charles Saatchi.

With no formal training in clothing design or construction, Vivienne Westwood began to create totally new styles. The Sex Pistols were wearing her clothes before they started playing music together, and she kept designing for them as they skyrocketed to fame. This early phase in Vivienne’s career matched the crude charm of the punk band – full of politically charged graphic tees, safety pins, black leather, and fetish wear. 

Her creations were slashed, torn, painted, and naively constructed. Vivienne was a fearless visionary and was solely responsible for some fashion trends that endure to this day:

  • The slogan printed tee shirt. In fact, one of Vivienne’s Sex Pistol tee shirts is part of a permanent collection at The Met. The proliferation of graphic tees is largely due to Vivienne’s influence.
  • Platform ‘pedestal’ shoes. As per V&A Museum, “Westwood added extreme height to the shoes for more than just dramatic effect, commenting that, “shoes must have very high heels and platforms to put women’s beauty on a pedestal”. 
  • Unisex fashion garments. To Vivienne, punk was punk and gender made no difference. She dressed both men and women in the same revolutionary styles.
  • Courting corsets: Westwood took an out-of-fashion undergarment that had fallen far from favor and transformed it into a perennial trend piece that’s come round again and again, including recently. She’s an icon of underwear as outerwear
  • Plaid for the proles: Vivienne took plaids and tartans, which had traditionally been worn only by royalty and “old money”, and turned them into a high-street statement

 

Vivienne’s rebellious creativity has led her to reject conformity time and time again during the more than 50 years of her career. Even when being celebrated at the highest levels, Vivienne’s personal style has remained as brave as her commercial collections. Need proof? We’ve always loved this one: when she was awarded an OBE, the highest honor a British civilian can receive, she showed up to the ceremony sans knickers! Truly fearless.

Debbie Harry: Punk’s Fashion Goddess

Deborah Ann “Debbie” Harry was born on July 1, 1945 in Miami, Florida. As an infant, she was adopted by gift shop proprietors, Catherine (née Peters) and Richard Harry, and raised in Hawthorne, New Jersey. 

While it wasn’t until the mid-70s that she took to the stage as a singer, yet all along she had more style and attitude that she knew what to do with. 

After attending college and graduating with an Associates of Arts degree in 1965, she worked various jobs—as a dancer, a Playboy Bunny and a secretary (including at the BBC in New York)—before forming Blondie in 1974. That was when her coquettish badassness finally made her a star.

Debbie – blessed with cover girl looks, an enviable bone structure, plus an innate and nonchalant sense of style – was the stunning pioneer of the mid-70s/late 80s looks that are still strutting down the runways today. 

In fact, Dazed Magazine has called her “music’s ultimate cult style icon.”  They go on to say, With her iconic pout, shock of bleached white hair and revolving, ever-imitated outfit choices, the 70s style queen has always been (and still is) much more than Blondie’s lead singer.”  

Here are just some of the bad-girl-rock-chic style cues Debbie bestowed upon the fashion industry:

  • Rock star accessories: Along with fellow rebel girl Joan Jett, Debbie Harry often wore the rock-and-roll uniform of all-black sunglasses with a black leather motorcycle jacket 
  • Badass Berets: Debbie wore them in every color of the rainbow, bringing unprecedented edge to a sophisticated French accessory
  • Graphic tees: Just like Vivienne Westwood, Debbie scoured thrift stores for the perfect graphic tee (two sizes too small, of course), often worn with cut-off jean shorts
  • Effortless asymmetry: Single-strapped tops and slashing angled designs were one of Debbie’s signature styles
  • Fishnets and thigh high boots: Worn together or as individual outfit standouts, Debbie loved a bit of provocative legwear
  • An “I woke up like this” original: Debbie’s messy, slept-in stylings–think tousled hair and smoky eyes–paved the way for countless “too cool to care” looks to come

Debbie Harry (along with Blondie) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. And now at the age of 77, she’s still rocking with no plans to stop. Recently she was spotted in a sequin mini dress, black stockings (with purposeful “runs” in them), and black thigh-high boots. Debbie, our beret is off to you!

If you’re feeling inspired by these incredible creatives and feel ready to go against the grain in pursuit of your vision, let’s chat. Teg is here to make sure you don’t have to do the whole DIY thing. You can give us a call at 800-916-0910 or reach us via the web at https://tegmade.com/get-in-touch/

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