Inside Vivienne Westwood And Malcolm McLaren's Abusive Relationship

The following article includes allegations of domestic abuse.

Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer who set the style for punk beginning in the 1970s, made her mark on both fashion and punk with a heavy dose of energy and controversy. Per Revolver, in the media, Westwood was known as the "High Priestess of Punk" or the "Queen of Extreme" for pushing the boundaries of culture and the fashion industry in a style that mixed art, religion, royalty, and rock. "I have an in-built perversity," she said in an interview for Jon Savage's book, "England's Dreaming." "[A] kind of in-built clock which reacts against anything orthodox." Per The Guardian, Westwood continued to design, make art, and write until her death at the age of 81 on December 29, 2022.

It's nearly impossible to think about Westwood's rise in the punk scene without considering her relationship with Malcolm McLaren. According to The Guardian, the two met in the 1960s when he was a band manager and she was a school teacher. Westwood recently separated from her husband, Derek Westwood, when they met. Together, McLaren and Westwood opened a shop called Let It Rock in a space where McLaren previously had a boutique called Paradise Garage at 430 Kings Road in London, per AnOther. Their shop would take on several other names over the years, including SEX, Seditionaries, and World's End. No matter the name, the shop had a built-in publicity machine after Westwood began styling the bands McLaren managed, including the Sex Pistols.

A bad start

Even though the creative partnership between Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren is considered to be one of the early driving forces behind the punk movement, at first, a romantic relationship was the last thing on Westwood's mind. "Malcolm chased me," she wrote in her memoir, eponymously named "Vivienne Westwood." She added: "I didn't want him for my boyfriend. He didn't look after himself. And I started trying to cook for him a bit and stuff like that. And, well, that's how it started. He wasn't well one time and he didn't have a bed. So I made him sleep in my bed in the daytime to get over a fever, and he stayed in there for days and then he wouldn't get out. And that was how we ended up having sex."

Soon after, Westwood, who was caring for her young son from her first marriage, was pregnant. "I didn't want Malcolm at first, but I did, in fact, end up getting pregnant by him," she wrote in her memoir. "Even then, I didn't really want him." In November 1967, she had another son, Joseph Corré, who later became a social activist and co-founder of the luxury lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. For some time, she blamed herself for the situation she and McLaren were in. "I felt, you see, that somehow I'd been so kind to him that maybe he'd got the wrong idea, and it was my fault, and that I'd led him on without knowing," she wrote.

Vivienne Westwood discloses abuse

Under a mountain of success, some dark secrets around the couple's relationship began to bubble up. Westwood described in her memoir that McLaren had a temper and displayed significant levels of jealousy when she spent time away from him with her friends. "Because he's dead, I don't mind saying this: he behaved incredibly cruelly," she wrote in "Vivienne Westwood." "Professionally, personally, in every way. He had this thing where he couldn't leave the flat until he made me cry. He wanted to feel bad or something — he was trying to draw blood. It was simpler to give in; to give way to the tears so he would stop."

Joseph Corré noticed the level of abuse McLaren heaped upon Westwood at an early age. "He was a horrible bully. It was archetypal, a textbook case of a dysfunctional, toxic thing — a sort of co-dependency where making her cry allowed him to feel whatever he needed to feel," Corré said (via Glamour). And that feeling was shared by Ben Westwood, Vivienne's son from her first marriage, as well. "I used to be quite scared of Malcolm, certainly," Ben Westwood said (via The Times). "He had a temper, so you used to be careful. He hit me a couple of times."

An all-around abusive environment

Over the course of that relationship, which lasted more than a decade, abuse could be a two-way street. "I used to hit Malcolm," she wrote in her memoir. "One day he hit me back. That's the last time I hit him. But it was me that hit first." Even with the abuse, the two married in 1971, which lasted until 1980. After that, according to the Daily Mail, the two did not remain friends. At times, they were even enemies, as he attempted to throttle her business in the press. "He tried to destroy everything I had," Westwood told the Daily Mail.

Just before Malcolm McLaren died in April 2010, Joseph Corré (pictured above with Vivienne Westwood) flew to Switzerland to reconcile with his father in the hospital. He said he began to understand a kind of pathology that ran through McLaren's past that helped explain why he behaved the way he did. "I'm really glad I did that," Corré told The Guardian. "It was such a release — for both of us." For Westwood, it was more complicated, telling the Daily Mail, "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."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.