The news was announced yesterday, Thursday 8th April, that Malcolm McLaren, godfather of the British punk movement died as a result of cancer at the age of 64. He was best known as the Sex Pistol’s early manager after meeting Johnny Rotten at the clothes shop he opened with Vivienne Westwood on the King’s Road, London.
His death will inevitably draw comment on his role within the British music industry but it is the fashion industry which perhaps owes him the most plaudits. Malcolm McLaren, along with his then girlfriend Vivienne Westwood, was 25 when they opened up their clothes shop Let it Rock. Westwood herself has said that working there with him changed her view of fashion. Whilst in the early days it wasn’t the designing she was interested in, indeed she essentially loathed making clothes for other people, it was Malcolm’s often outlandish and sensationalist views that sparked Westwood’s imagination. She consequently saw fashion as a way to speak to people, to broadcast her beliefs and her dissatisfaction with an ignorant, impassive society. Whilst designers before them had expressed social liberations through the lines of a dress, or the colour of a jacket, Westwood and McLaren were the first to explicitly hold a mirror up to society by swaggering through Camden with the words ‘I AM NOT A PROSTITUTE’ emblazoned on their chest, or to express their anger at society by cutting up and pinning their fetishist garments. If it were not for Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood would not be making the clothes she is now and thus the fashion industry would be a completely different landscape to the one we recognise today.
The recent deaths of McLaren and Alexander McQueen have moved me on a personal level. I remember the very first designer garment I coveted was a classic black, white and grey draped dress from Vivienne Westwood’s S/S 06 Anglomania collection. I called it my Alice in Wonderland dress as I saw myself skipping through the green grassed and primrose lined gardens of North London on my way to a tea party. From then, I navigated my way through books about punk fashion, chopped off all my hair into a white blonde spiky ‘I’m from the Home Counties and I fucking hate it’ number and became obsessed with the notion of rebellion.
I trawled through magazines looking to be inspired by a dress and then, a year later, I stumbled across Alexander McQueen’s A/W 08 Haute Couture collection. The delicacy, the romanticism and the sheer beauty of that collection completely flawed me and I found myself simply staring longingly at the glossy pages of Vogue’s ‘Fantasy Fashion’ issue wanting to crawl into a Tim Walker photograph that had Karen Elson staring dreamily across a flower-filled field wearing a yellow-feathered dress that deserved its own orbit. I fell in love.
When the news came that McQueen had committed suicide I was, in a way, heartbroken. I sat in the Wessex Scene office, my body completely devoid of thought or speech and just stared at the incomprehensible words that strung themselves together telling me that my favourite artist, because you should be in no doubt that that is what he was, would no longer create something for me to fall in love with.
So when I found out McLaren had died just a couple of months after McQueen, it made me think about the mortality of all the designers who have informed both my artistic taste, and my world views. Vivienne Westwood is now 69. Karl Lagerfeld is 76. They’re not exactly in the prime of their lives, are they? It will not only be a personal loss to me when these two greats die, it will throw the entire fashion world into a void. Who is prepared to take up the mantle of super-designer; one whose vision and creations will inform the next generation? Gareth Pugh has made a convincing case to be the next McQueen as has Phoebe Philo to be the next Lagerfeld. But fashion is not about ‘what’s next?’ It’s about ‘what’s new?’ It seems clear that fashion is about to undergo a major transition within the next decade, but for now, it seems apt to honour those who have passed and have made a mark in a world that all to easily forgets last season.