Meet the rising designers inspired by Vivienne Westwood and keeping her punk dream alive
Long live Vivienne Westwood: the dame, the punk, and the activist. There’s rarely a designer who'd score 100/100, but she broke all the scales, glass ceilings, and boundaries. In fact, Westwood found golden eggs on the other side of the establishment’s barricade — in restless youth, forgotten arts, and the Tao, as she pioneered the look of the punk movement in the 1970s before launching one of the most influential fashion houses in history.
The Derbyshire-born artist quickly descended the small U.K. city to shake the London alternative and high culture. Westwood's vision was an inclusive nod to anything she found worthwhile, from '70s Sex Pistols-flavored subversion coined as punk to eclectic New Romantics to the beauty of Boucher to the politics of climate change. And throughout all of her work, she stayed committed to her anti-establishment vision, once saying, "My manifesto is about culture and is against consumerism. I believe that to pursue art gives you this wonderful anchor."
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Westwood’s world stretches far beyond the canvas of her iconic mini-crinis or corsets. It’s become a homeland for change-seekers, conceptual disruptors, and anyone wanting to show the middle finger to conformism. While the fashion industry can be an elitist gatekeeper, Westwood offered citizenship to any dreamer who dared to ask for it.
Though Westwood escaped the mortal realm when she passed away in late 2022, her legacy continues not only in the work of her design partner/husband Andreas Kronthaler, but a generation of designers touched by her genius. We're rounding up a handful of rising talents inspired by the original provocateur. Below, find the designers who honor the past, while striving for the future in the name of the present. That’s punk.
["The Jilted" and "The Banished" / Courtesy of Maximilian Raynor]
Meet Maximilian Raynor and his assembly of characters: The Royal Blooded Whisper dressed in the blue extravaganza, Bah Humbug, a black-and-white-striped sweetie, and Lady Clementine Looks For Love, an orange silhouette thirsty for affection. Often enormous in size, refined to perfection, the garments tell stories in shapes and texture. “It's never really been about clothing, per se. It's much more about characterization and identity and creating a sort of narrative through clothing,” Raynor explains.
Raynor’s spectacle is always out of the ordinary and full of glam. It feels like being a child and daydreaming about a different life every day. That’s how 10-year-old Maximilian fantasized his way to Westwood’s atelier. Already hooked on fashion, he sent Westwood his designs and, impressed, she invited him to London for a unique work experience week. “Had she never replied to my letter and had I never been to see her, I would still sit here today and say she was a huge, huge influence on my life. Aesthetically, as a designer, she is the North Star of what I want to do,” Raynor says. Now, his mission is to survive from his craft and give back to the community, saying, “Because I think deep down what that gave me is beyond validation.”
Raynor says, “If we really are wanting to continue Vivienne's legacy, I don't think she gave a crap anymore about fashion necessarily. She was a political activist trying to save the future.” It’s a complex matter, but with an open mind, possible. It all can start with one individual — one like Maximilian Raynor.
In luscious curves, intricate detailing, and unexpected peek-a-boo moments hides designer Michaela Stark. The Aussie-born and London-based couturier and lingerie visionary creates garments celebrating plus- and non-sample-size individuals. In her theater of pain and pleasure, she spends hours hand-making each piece and discovering the new technique of body morphing.
Through her fantastical bondage-like lingerie, she transforms the uncomfortable and banished into desirable. Her body-morphed army of followers add to the dialogue of inclusivity and innovation in fashion.
She's even received co-signs from names like Sam Smith and Beyoncé, who have been seen wearing her work. Still, her art is deeply rooted in what’s subversive. In the way she makes the unobvious sexy, you can tell she's committed to being fearless and controversial. After all, she fell for fashion even harder after moving to Europe and sneaking into Vivienne Westwood’s afterparties.
[Courtesy of Helena Eisenhart]
“I typically try to convey a sort of recklessness and playfulness that comes with being young and emotional," New York-based designer Helena Eisenhart says. The sustainable designer works from a place that's guided by intuition, constructing new-age fashion for the fierce and fearsome. Deconstructing thrifted garments as a child, Helena learned the ropes of their craft to blossom today. From warrior-worthy leather skirts to gangster-meets-coquette corset hoods, their up-cycled imperium has grown magnificent.
“Vivienne has influenced me as a designer because of her ability to gather a large range of influences such as fetish and bondage wear, to 19th-century historical costume,” they say. Their admiration for the icon shows in their F/W 23 collection, too — featuring a mix of sheers and solid fabrics and the comfort and joy of destruction.
“I feel that because of my arts background, my work can be seen as non-conforming or DIY compared to maybe more traditional fashion design, which sometimes reflects a bit of punk spirit,” Eisenhart says. While punk is the term destined to escape definitions, Helena’s work fits into this kind of fluidity. Reinventing the idea of unisex and eco-conscious, they continue to search for techniques, combining quality tailoring and edge-pushing approach, quite like Vivienne did.
They say, “[Westwood's] youthful spirit defined an entire era of fashion that cannot be imitated, but can be seen as a guide. She has proven that staying true to oneself throughout a long-term and fruitful career is possible.” It's something Eisenhart has taken to heart, and the results are extraordinary.
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Alumni of the talent incubator Fashion East and award-winning designer Jawara Alleyne treats clothes making as a means to tell a tale of perception of the self. Drawing on his Jamaican and the Cayman Islands heritage, Alleyne constructs new meaning out history — a narrative that can bring together people who struggle with identity and stereotyping.
In his stripped-down, raw garments lies a reflection of his admiration for anything that’s worn-down, but still fierce and full of beauty. He creates a carnival starring pirates, rockers, and subcultural freaks who enjoy reconstructed elegance. From drapings, knots, and occasional cut-outs to safety-pin-based stitches, Alleyne finds a perfect balance in-between alternative and chic, edge-pushing and classic.
Alleyne carries on Westwood’s legacy through his punk aesthetic musings and contextual work. Subtly, he picks up trails and bits left behind to breathe new life into it, as if everything was connected.
Matty Bovan is the master of a hand-sewn personal wonderland created on the grounds of clashing patterns and flashing colors, floating in the wonderful pool of imagination. A winner of the Woolmark Prize and the ancillary Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation for 2021, Bovan was named by Westwood herself “a true punk of the new generation.”
For him, fashion is not a status, but an expression. He projects meaning onto each collection, mostly created sustainably and from deadstock fabrics. With his rainbowy attire full of ribbons, contrasts, and textures, he creates garments made of nightmares and dreams, and comes across as a complete artist.