China Responds To Death Of Iconic Designer And Taoist Vivienne Westwood

What Happened: The world has been mourning the death of famed fashion designer, activist, cultural maven and style icon Vivienne Westwood since December 29. Dubbed “the high priestess of punk,” she reportedly died peacefully, surrounded by family in South London at age 81. Spiritually, she considered herself a Taoist, famously penning, “There was never more need for the Tao today. Tao gives you a feeling that you belong to the cosmos and gives purpose to your life; it gives you a sense of identity and strength to know you’re living the life you can live and therefore ought to be living: make full use of your character and full use of your life on earth.”  

Almost every big name in fashion, including Nick Knight, Donatella Versace, Naomi Campbell, Bella Hadid and Kim Cattrall, has been paying tribute to an inimitable legend who stayed at the forefront of style for six decades. Popularizing punk with husband Malcolm McLaren during their 1970s Kings Road London’s“Sex”store heyday, the duo dressed the Sex Pistols in those infamous “God Save the Queen” tees. Later on, her eponymous high fashion label provided some of the industry’s most memorable moments and entertaining runways. 

Pieces from Vivienne Westwood’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection. Photo: Vivienne Westwood

Westwood was intrinsically radical (doing things like gender-fluid dressing decades before current incarnations) and remained a true punk and vocal activist to the end, championing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, environmental protection and anti-capitalism.

Her influence in Asia and China was also prodigious, in both personality and style. Upon news of her death, fashion fans and netizens flooded social media to express sadness at the loss of one of fashion’s greats. The topic trended on Weibo with the hashtag #VivienneWestwoodpassedaway# gaining 110 million reads and 13,000 discussions as of today. 

The Jing Take: Westwood was not short of admirers of all generations in Greater China, as these Weibo figures show. However, many of her fans were not aware that she followed the ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy. Top Weibo comments include: “RIP. She’s such a cool woman,” by user @猫小琦 and “RIP. She’s one of my favorite designers. The queen of punk forever,” by @紫琉璃蝶. User@住在秋天yang added: “I’ll never forget Carrie’s wedding dress in Sex and the City. It was beautiful!” 

As fashion fans in China mourn her death, the brand’s Shanghai flagship store shared a photo of someone laying a flower outside their door on their Xiaohongshu account. Her brand remains popular in both the mainland and Hong Kong, as well as other Asian fashion hotspots like Japan and South Korea. Her accessories, bags and jewelry were particularly sought after over the decades in Asia. But her visionary legacy in China was underlined through unusual and meaningful cultural activities like K11 Shanghai’s 2016 “Get A Life” exhibition — the mall’s first collaboration with a luxury fashion brand — that revealed Westwood’s take on how the climate disaster will impact all of us. 

A Chinese fan leaves a rose at the Vivienne Westwood flagship store in Shanghai. Photo: Xiaohongshu

Amid 2022’s luxury retail woes, her business was actually expanding in China with two new stores opening in Shanghai and Beijing, taking the total number of stores in the mainland up to 12. Before she passed, she transferred ownership of her estate to husband Andreas Kronthaler and long-time friend and designer Jeff Banks. Just a few months ago, the designer had a viral Chinese social media moment when local actress Zhao Lusi and South Korean pop idol Lisa of Blackpink both wore the same Vivienne Westwood bridal dress at a Bulgari event. 

Chinese actress Zhao Lusi wears a Vivienne Westwood bridal dress while promoting Bulgari’s Eden High Jewelry collection. Photo: Bulgari’s Weibo

The designer’s relationship with China was reportedly mixed, once declaring apathy about the country to WWD. But she also used Chinese ink painting prints in her designs and proclaimed to Shanghai Daily upon a visit to the city many years ago that, “To me, there was nothing more wonderful than Chinese painting…There is no progress in art. Great art is timeless. Chinese painting is absolutely perfect and you can’t progress from something that is perfect.” 

 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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