Vivienne Westwood 1941-2022
As the progenitors of punk, the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood changed the faces of both music and fashion. Glen Matlock, the original bassist in the band, co-wrote ten of the 12 tracks on their seminal 1977 debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, while their manager McLaren and his then-partner Westwood created the band’s iconic look and channelled their anarchic energy into the mainstream, resulting in huge sales of both clothes and records. “We had a symbiotic relationship and Vivienne was part of that,” says Matlock. “She saw an opportunity to push her seamstressing, for want of a better word, but she did so in a dedicated, stylish way.”
While many have argued about the unique collision of politics, music and fashion that made punk possible, Matlock puts the birth of the Sex Pistols down to something more prosaic: a hangover.
“I was working at Whiteleys [department store] when I was still at school,” he says. “Me and my mates used to work Friday nights and Saturdays and one Friday we went out after work to an all-night gig and then straight back to work the next morning. Come 11.30 in the morning I’m feeling a bit woozy. I was in the trouser department, and they had an old-fashioned way of paying for things: you put the money in a little metal canister along with a sales docket and compressed air wooshed it off to the cashier somewhere in the store. Now, because I was feeling a bit spaced out, I forgot to fill in the sales dockets and within half an hour the whole store was in abject chaos because of me. I knew I was for the high jump – so I thought I’d better find a new job.”
That search led the then 15-year-old Matlock to number 430 King’s Road, a shop called Let It Rock, owned by McLaren and Westwood. “I actually went in there looking for a pair of brothel creepers,” says the musician. “I happened to ask the guy working there if they needed any help and he said, ‘Well, as it happens, I’m leaving. Why don’t you give this guy Malcolm a call?’ So, I called him up and I started working there the next Saturday. It was a real Sliding Doors moment: If I hadn’t gone in there, I wouldn’t have met Steve and Paul [Jones and Cook, who along with Matlock would form the band, later adding singer John Lydon] and there’d be no Sex Pistols.”
As well as introducing him to his bandmates, Matlock credits McLaren and Westwood with opening up an entirely new world for him. “Both Malcolm and Vivienne made you think. They’d challenge you on everything. Open your mind,” he says. “Working at the shop on the King’s Road was my exit from the straight world, where people just did what was expected of them, into something else.”
Matlock helped Westwood and McLaren refit the shop when they decided they were going to ditch the retro stylings – “It was a bit like my nan’s front room, I liked it,” notes Matlock – and focus on the leather and rubber wear that would form the basis of punk’s look. When the shop reopened, first as SEX and then as Seditionaries, it became the epicentre of London’s underground scene.
“It was like some unsaid headquarters for every ne’er-do-well and misfit with an odd ambition,” says Matlock. “They’d all pass through the doors on a Saturday afternoon. It was a finishing school for Herberts. It was very important, I think.”
For both Westwood and Matlock, King’s Road was only the beginning. Westwood continued to run the shop, but increasingly started to turn her anarchic eye to her own designs. “I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way,” she once said of her fashion creations. “I realised there was no subversion without ideas.
It’s not enough to want to destroy everything.” Despite being the antithesis of designers at big corporate labels – she created most of the pieces for her acclaimed 1991 show in Paris on her own sewing machine in her flat – the fashion world soon embraced her. The British Fashion Council named her designer of the year in 1991. In the early 90s she received backing to launch her own eponymous label which grew rapidly into a retail empire with shops as far afield as Japan, the UAE and China. Despite her anti-establishment politics, Westwood was made a Dame in 2010.
Matlock, meanwhile, left the Sex Pistols in 1977; they replaced him with Sid Vicious before splitting up just a year later. He went on to a successful solo career, with his latest album, Consequences Coming due for release in April. He rejoined the Sex Pistols for a string of reunion gigs in the mid-nineties and the 2000s and continues to tour the world with bands including Blondie.
It was on one of his overseas tours that he got to consider how far he and his former employer had come. “A few years ago I went to Shanghai,” he says. “I went for a walk and thought ‘I’d better find a landmark so I don’t get lost’. I looked around and there was a massive flagship store with Vivienne Westwood on the side in neon letters. I thought ‘Blimey, she’s done well for herself’. She was a really successful entrepreneur, but she built her empire on her own terms. Good for her.”
Success didn’t blunt Westwood’s desire to change the world. She often used her runways as political platforms, having her models wear or carry slogans highlighting causes from the plight of Guantanamo Bay detainees to environmental issues. Matlock wasn’t surprised that his one-time boss used her platform to speak out. “Vivienne always addressed social issues in her own way,” he says. “She was the first militant vegetarian I’d ever met; we spoke about women’s rights issues, the environment. It was a privilege to work for her,” he says. “Although she’d always be quick to remind you of that fact.”
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