Another day, another sad story of domestic abuse: this time, it’s being revealed in the fashion industry. In an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, Vivienne Westwood, the iconic designer has shared that the partner credited with helping her establish punk style was far darker than the undertones of the clothes she’s famous for.
Westwood and the late Malcolm McLaren created a full-blown fashion, music, and lifestyle movement that still echoes today. It started with McClaren’s boutique, SEX, in which Vivienne sold her clothes. McClaren then became the manager of The Sex Pistols, and when the band began wearing Westwood’s creations, the seed of punk the pair had planted grew into an English phenomenon and began to spread across the globe.
Underneath the duo’s success, though, were dark secrets that are just now coming to light.
"Because he's dead, I don't mind saying this: he behaved incredibly cruelly,” says 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.”
Westwood and McLaren’s son, social activist and Agent Provocateur co-founder Joseph Corré, adds, "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."
In the segment, published in The Sunday Times, Westwood also revealed that the origin of the pair’s relationship was far from romantic.
"Malcolm chased me,” she said. “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."
Vivienne became pregnant with Corré, but says that wasn’t the reason she stayed.
"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 said.
And that just might be the most disturbing part of Westwood’s account — that she felt like she owed him something because she had been nice to him. While she was building her style empire, she’d also been trying to deal with a relationship that she never really wanted, but rather felt obligated to stay in.
In today’s conversation about domestic abuse (both emotional and physical) and the recent #WhyIStayed trend on social media stemming from the Ray Rice scandal, it’s important to note that this struggle isn’t a sign of weakness. Westwood is one of the strongest women in the fashion industry, and if domestic abuse can happen to a trailblazing, independent woman like her, we shouldn’t be belittling the women in these situations for lacking the courage to leave.
Westwood’s memoir, co-penned by Ian Kelly, is set for release on October 9.