Inside Vivienne Westwood's Complicated Relationship With The Royal Family

At first glance, the British royal family and late fashion designer Vivienne Westwood can seem like they come from different planets. Whereas the royal family has fought to maintain centuries-worth of traditions, Westwood was a rebel who once had a store called SEX (per Vanity Fair). In the 1980s, when royal women like Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana attended official events in ballgowns, Westwood was busy inventing a cropped version of the Victorian-era crinoline skirt, which she dubbed "the Mini-Crini" (via V&A). And while the royal family has enforced protocol about the proper way to hold a wine glass, Westwood was credited as the godmother of punk (via BBC).

Despite all of these differences, Westwood and the royal family had one thing in common: Against all odds, they both became symbols of Great Britain. Of course, Westwood was representative of avant-garde fashion, as Google Arts & Culture revealed, while the royal family has long represented the old institution of the British state (via Counterfire). 

However, even in their respective roles, Westwood and the royals interacted many times throughout the years. Leading up to Westwood's 2022 death, she and the royals clashed, challenged each other, laughed at each other, and, eventually, came to respect each other.

Vivienne Westwood shocked the world via her Queen Elizabeth tees

The first major clash between Vivienne Westwood and the British royal family occurred in 1977. At the time, Queen Elizabeth II was preparing for her silver jubilee — an event to commemorate her 25th year as the nation's monarch (per Town & Country). Unfortunately, however, the jubilee fell at a time when Britain was facing a new wave of economic strife, according to Oxford Academic. In hopes of motivating the population to view the event in a positive light, the palace released a wave of jubilee-themed souvenirs, including playing cards with the queen's likeness.

However, Westwood and the punk group, Sex Pistols, remained unimpressed with the monarchy's efforts toward celebration. In response to the ill-timed festivities, the Sex Pistols released their polemic song, "God Save the Queen." According to Netflix, the song's lyrics, which were banned by several radio stations, challenged the hypocrisy of celebrating a monarch in the midst of the country's financial crisis. To one-up the palace's jubilee-themed souvenirs, the Sex Pistols collaborated with Westwood to create some merch of their own. 

Preceding Queen Elizabeth's big day, Westwood designed T-shirts that desecrated the monarch's image. According to Vanity Fair, some of the graphics designed by Westwood portrayed Queen Elizabeth sporting a safety pin nose ring. Others yet showed her with swastikas instead of eyes. Queen Elizabeth was reportedly not very happy about this, according to Netflix, although then-Prince Charles apparently found it a bit funny.

Queen Elizabeth honored Vivienne Westwood with an award

Despite the controversy surrounding Vivienne Westwood's "God Save the Queen" T-shirts, Queen Elizabeth II didn't hold a grudge against the designer. On the contrary, about 15 years following the original incident, the monarch invited Westwood to meet her at Buckingham Palace. And the visit was not just any speedy curtsey-and-go event. In fact, according to Reuters, the queen called Westwood to the palace to honor her with a prestigious award known as the Order of the British Empire medal.

Per the UK government's website, this medal is awarded to people who've made significant contributions. In Westwood's case, her 1992 award was meant to honor her contributions to the world of fashion. Despite of Westwood's political views — which have been described as "anti-monarchist" – she did attend the palace event.

According to the Mirror, the designer wore a grey ensemble with a pair of chunky black heels. Her outfit paired a blazer with a long skirt and a matching hat. From afar, it seemed to be the perfect thing to wear in royal company.

Vivienne Westwood visited Queen Elizabeth sans underwear

On the day of her Order of the British Empire medal, Vivienne Westwood wore a grey ensemble that might have seemed demure on the outside. However, the ever-rebellious designer was not afraid to hide a punk trick or two up her sleeve ... or, rather, her skirt.

According to the Mirror, Westwood headed to Buckingham Palace with absolutely no underwear underneath her grey suit. When she eventually met Queen Elizabeth II to receive her award, the fashion designer curtsied to her majesty commando.

It didn't take long for Westwood's rebellious fashion choice to go public. On the designer's way out of the palace, she was greeted by the paparazzi. To display the full scope of her ensemble, Westwood did a little twirl for the photographers. Her skirt lifted up with the draft wind, and, in true punk fashion, Westwood's lower half was captured for posterity in dozens of photographs. When asked if she pulled this nudity stunt on purpose, Westwood claimed that it was all an accident. "I wished to show off my outfit by twirling the skirt. It did not occur to me that, as the photographers were practically on their knees, the result would be more glamorous than I expected," she told the Mirror.

The Queen made Vivienne Westwood a dame

Typically, the British royal family follows a series of strict etiquette rules that determine everything from how to angle their teacup handles (at 3 o'clock) to where they cannot shave (over the sink). In that sense, Vivienne Westwood's 1992 decision to meet Queen Elizabeth II without underwear was quite scandalous. Some might have even worried that the designer offended senior royals. However, Westwood and the British royal family remained on good terms. As the fashion designer later told the Daily Mail, "I met a man who worked with the Queen and he said she was rather amused by it."

In 2006, Queen Elizabeth even granted Westwood the title "dame," as reported by the Daily Mail. Per the outlet, Westwood said that Prince Philip told her that he hoped the damehood would have a positive impact on her career. 

This time, Westwood showed up to the palace wearing a black dress and cap in a Che Guevarra-like style (via Daily Mail). Reports indicate that she once again forwent underclothing to this event (via Evoke). Apparently, on her way out of Buckingham Palace, the newly-damed designer was stopped by reporters who asked her what she was wearing beneath her skirt. According to the Mirror, Westwood responded, "Don't ask. It's the same answer. I don't wear [underwear] with dresses."

Princess Eugenie wore Vivienne Westwood's designs

Queen Elizabeth II wasn't the only Vivienne Westwood fan in the British royal family. Princess Eugenie was also reportedly a supporter of the late punk fashion designer. The princess even wore one of Westwood's creations to Prince William and Princess Catherine's 2011 royal wedding at Westminster Abbey. Hello! magazine reported that Princess Eugenie attended the event in a bright blue two-piece Vivienne Westwood ensemble, which she paired with a matching feathered hat. The night before the ceremony, Eugenie reportedly wore yet another piece by Vivienne Westwood. As revealed in the report, the princess showed up at her cousin's pre-wedding dinner in a long black gown with a slightly punk "corseted neckline."  

Unfortunately, however, Princess Eugenie's pro-Westwood stance has not always come without backlash. According to Courier Mail, several British tabloids attacked the princess for wearing Westwood's pieces to Prince William's royal wedding. The Daily Mail condemned Princess Eugenie's ensemble as being too vibrant. Nonetheless, Eugenie continued to support the designer. In 2016, she donned a Vivienne Westwood gown to a UNAIDS gala (via Hello! magazine).

Vivienne Westwood criticized Princess Catherine's fashion sense

While Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Eugenie were on good terms with Vivienne Westwood, the same could not be said for other members of the royal family, like Princess Catherine.

The fashion designer insulted the then-duchess at the 2011 London Fashion Week. According to The Sunday Times (via The Cut), Westwood insinuated that she did not want to use her brand to style the royal. "I would have loved to have dressed Kate Middleton ... But I have to wait until she kind of catches up a bit somewhere with style," the designer said. 

Two years later, Westwood made more questionable comments about Catherine. At London Fashion Week 2013, the fashion designer called out the royal for choosing clothing that lacked environmental consciousness. As reported by Express, the designer said, "It would be great if [Catherine] wore the same clothes over and again because that's very good for the environment and it would send out a very nice message."

Vivienne Westwood became a big fan of King Charles

Vivienne Westwood and the British royal family haven't always seen eye to eye. However, closer the end of her life, Westwood gained a newfound respect for King Charles III. In 2015, the designer hosted a showing of her autumn/winter menswear collection (via Vogue). At the event, Westwood distributed briefing notes that applauded the then-prince for his dedication to environmentalism. According to The Guardian, her notes read: "I want to pay tribute to Prince Charles. If Prince Charles had ruled the world according to his priorities during the last 30 years, we would be alright and we would be tackling climate change."

At the showing, one of Westwood's models walked the runway wearing a shirt with King Charles' face plastered across the front (via Vogue). In striking contrast to the T-shirts that had desecrated the king's mother some 30 years before, the shirts from the fashion designer's 2015 collection celebrated Charles' image. While Westwood certainly had a complicated relationship with the British royal family, she did eventually come to appreciate more than one royal.