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How jealous Malcolm McLaren tried to destroy me and my son: Vivienne Westwood reveals the dark side of life with her 'bitter' partner in punk
23:21 GMT, 22 December 2012
Vivienne Westwood says she is calmer at 71, but still fights for causes close to her heart
Dame Vivienne Westwood shuffles from the private lift leading to her office and inner sanctum looking wet and bedraggled. She has cycled three miles in the rain from her home to the headquarters of her fashion empire, an anonymous building in South London.
A tiny figure, she is bundled in an oversized bright-orange kimono-shape duvet jacket, voluminous harem pants and sensible shoes. It’s a sartorial style that reflects the anti-fashion ethos of a designer who once said of her work: ‘My aim is to make the poor look rich and the rich look poor.’
First thing she needs desperately is a cup of hot tea, which her press officer Laura quickly makes in a mug. Then Westwood begins to vent. She might be a grand old dame but the 71-year-old, who, with her then husband Malcolm McLaren, shaped the subversive image of the punk generation in the Seventies, continues to rail against the world.
She still designs clothes – though now it’s high fashion worn by the cognoscenti – and still champions causes such as global warming, human rights and political empowerment of the masses. But it is her personal story that continues to fascinate. If McLaren was godfather of punk, flame-haired Westwood was its godmother; a self-taught clothes designer who pioneered the style of bondage gear, safety pins, razor blades, tartans and spiky collars.
When music mogul McLaren died two years ago from a rare form of asbestos-inflicted cancer, it was Westwood who led the tributes.
Alongside their son Joe Corre – the multi-millionaire founder of popular lingerie chain Agent Provocateur who funded McLaren’s lavish funeral – she hailed his genius.
But as she generously heaped praise on her ex, Westwood was also trying to make sense of the fact that – as he lay dying in a Swiss clinic – McLaren wrote a codicil, leaving his son nothing in his will. It was revealed earlier this year that McLaren had left his entire estate of 169,750 to his girlfriend of ten years, Young Kim. Joe challenged the validity of the will – on the basis of his father’s mental capacity at the time – as a matter of principle. But the legal bid failed.
McLaren always had a public
reputation for being manipulative and combative – but even his toughest
critics were shocked by this final, unexpected rejection.
Westwood, it was merely a last act of cruelty by a man who had been
nasty to her, and Joe, for years. Yet even now, she only reluctantly
reveals McLaren’s dark side. ‘He tried to destroy everything I had,’
she says in her soft Derbyshire brogue.
‘Malcolm was very jealous of my business
and bent over backwards to do terrible things to me. He was very bad to
our son Joe as well – really rotten to him.
Together: Vivienne Westwood with her then partner, Malcolm McLaren, and models in 1985
‘We did not remain friends. I had not spoken to him for a long time before he died. I heard that he was poorly from a friend who had been a customer in a taxi driven by Malcolm’s brother, Stuart. They got talking and it emerged that Malcolm was ill.
‘Although Malcolm had been so very awful to me and I’ve nothing to love him for, I was very upset by the news. I still felt some sort of loyalty to him. I shouldn’t have, but I did.’
Westwood says McLaren was a man scarred by his own dysfunctional childhood – his father left when he was two and he was raised by his grandmother, who turned him against his parents and his siblings.
She recalls him being difficult to
live with and that he even competed against his own son – on one
occasion, attempting to sue Joe over a T-shirt business. ‘He was not a
very generous person,’ she says. ‘He wasn’t interested in ideas, only in
being one-up all the time. He needed success – to score over other
‘He believed that people were after something and used to say, “They are taking the bread from our mouths.” ’
pauses and her trademark orange-lined eye brows arch. ‘I’ve not really
talked about these things before and I don’t want to go into too much
detail. Let’s just say that he was not a very nice man. He wasn’t nice
to me but, nevertheless, I was terribly upset when he died because he
was an amazing man – for good and for bad.’
Dame Vivienne Westwood, seen with her son Joe Corre, says McLaren was competitive with his own son
Catwalk queens: Daring duo Vivienne Westwood and Kate Moss at British Fashion Awards in 2009
Westwood is not a woman who holds a grudge. Perhaps it helps that she has long found happiness with third husband Andreas Kronthaler, an Austrian who is 25 years her junior.
Over 6ft tall, softly spoken and with the most arresting blue eyes, he’s clearly devoted to her.
They met in 1991, almost a decade after her bitter break-up from McLaren, when she was teaching fashion in Vienna. Kronthaler was one of her students and, she insists, did all the running.
‘I wasn’t looking for a man at all,’ says Westwood. ‘But I love being in a relationship with him. Andreas is very supportive of me with everything. We complement each other very well.’
They married secretly 20 years ago
when he was 25 and she was 50. ‘We didn’t tell anybody for four years,’
she says. ‘We kept it a secret because I’m older and, although it wasn’t
me who chased him, I didn’t want people to comment.’
But for immigration problems, they
might not have bothered getting wed. ‘We were travelling a lot and he
didn’t have a British passport,’ she continues. ‘Back then, it was
difficult to get into Britain, so I said, “We’ve got to find someone for
you to marry.” We were in a relationship and he looked at me and said,
“I’ve got to marry you.” So we just did it quickly because I didn’t
want to make a big fuss. My other son Ben [from her first marriage to
Derek Westwood in the early Sixties] and his girlfriend were witnesses. I
also told Joe, but that was all. My mother read about it in a newspaper
In the four decades since she opened
her first shop, she has emerged as a major British designer and a key
influence on the way we dress. Her 1979 collection, Pirates, became the
template for the New Romantic movement and in the Nineties she gave us
the puffa skirts – not to mention those platform shoes that caused Naomi
Campbell to tumble on the catwalk.
Vivienne Westwood, seen with Kylie Minogue, says her relationship with her sons has always been very good
She married Derek Westwood, a factory
apprentice, in 1962 and their son Ben was born the following year.
Then, in 1965, she met and moved in with McLaren and Joe was born two
years later. The couple opened a shop on London’s famous Kings Road and
created the look for bands such as The Clash and the Sex Pistols.
But their domestic life was difficult. McLaren, who she suspects was schizophrenic, disliked having two young boys around.
Ben has said he was ‘dumped’ with his
maternal grandparents at the age of three and sent to live with his
father when he was eight.
Westwood recalls: ‘Ben did go to live
with his father. Malcolm convinced me, and Malcolm was so awful and so
difficult to live with, that it was the best thing. Anyhow, I regretted
She pauses. ‘I don’t want to go into this because it’s not fair on Ben.’
She insists her relationship with both
her sons has always been ‘very good’ – but admits Ben told her he felt
in competition with McLaren when he returned to live with them aged
eight. She tells me that one Easter holiday, when Ben and Joe were 13
and nine, McLaren suggested the boys cycle alone from London to see
their grandparents in Devon.
is proud of both her boys. ‘My children came out as individuals in
their own right,’ she says. ‘They were not my products. They had their
own characters and were very strong-minded. I gave them a lot of freedom
when they were still very young. The one thing they got from me is
morals. They would never betray anyone. They are really good people.’
Their mother has always been a rebel and, increasingly, supports many causes.
Awarded an OBE in 1992, which Westwood mischievously collected knickerless from the Queen, she was ennobled in 2006.
Queen of fashion: The creative designer has been a key influence on how we dress
Once famously anti-Royal, she has now
softened her stance. She was surprised by the backlash over her mild
criticism last year of the Duchess of Cambridge’s fashion choices.
is reported to have said: ‘It seems to me that her image is “ordinary
woman’’. Therefore, high street shopper. And I just think she should be
an extraordinary woman, wherever she gets her clothes from.’
is a fan of the Queen and Prince Charles ‘because he has done some good
things regarding the environment’. As for Kate, she now says: ‘I think
she’s got a particular look, which is in keeping with the Royal Family. I
would love her to set an example for everyone by wearing the same
clothes over and over again. It would be a great way to show her support
for sustainability and saving the planet.’ Five years ago she read an
interview by environmentalist James Lovelock – proponent of the Gaia
theory of the Earth as a single organism – and came to the conclusion
that human beings are ‘an endangered species’.
She was ‘traumatised’ by Lovelock’s analysis that climate change would lead to billions of people dying by the end of the century and decided to do something about it. She has written her own manifesto, Active Resistance To Propaganda, and has a blog to discuss ideas of excessive consumption.
David Cameron, she says, has fallen far short of his pledge to make this the greenest Government ever. ‘I’ve met his wife Samantha and tried to encourage her to do a bit of pillow talk. She was very nice, but made it clear that she did not consider it her role. I think we all must do our bit, though.’
Westwood has donated more than
1 million to the charity Cool Earth, which works to protect endangered
rainforests. Her campaign against conspicuous consumption might seem
incongruous in an industry that is all about spending.
Happy end: Westwood with her husband of 20 years Andreas Kronthaler
she does concede: ‘I have a company and I’ve got to think about that.
I’m trying to do my best there and that’s a much harder task. We recycle
as much as possible and we conserve. But I’ve always been one to save
everything – I even walk up stairs on the very inside or the very
outside to not wear out the tread.
‘I was born during the war and grew up in a time of rationing. We didn’t have anything. It’s influenced the way I look at the world. Andreas used to get cross with me telling him off for leaving the tap running or for throwing the soap away before it’s finished. And I never throw food away.’
Even her cutting principles are about not wasting fabric: ‘I think that’s why I use rectangles, slits and gussets and stuff like that.’
Westwood is also on one of her numerous phases as a vegetarian ‘because Andreas wants to try it’ – but thinks ‘this time it’s for real’.
There is less of a consensus between her and Andreas over another of her causes – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Westwood first met Assange when she was invited to his birthday party last year. ‘I considered him such a hero,’ she says. ‘I think what he did was so brave and he’s very clever.’
She is hoping to spend time soon with Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in London – where he has been holed up for six months since he was granted asylum inside the building.
‘I’m going to take him some nice raw vegetables and give him a big hug,’ she says. ‘I want to discuss certain matters with him, as I value what he has to say.’
Her husband is more reserved. ‘I’ve not met the man, so I’ll wait to make my judgment,’ he says quietly. But he doesn’t seem alarmed by his wife’s enthusiasm. Westwood laughs. Life with Andreas is clearly a lot nicer than with Malcolm.