Vivienne Westwood began her career by pushing boundaries. A former schoolteacher, Westwood opened her own boutique in London, fittingly named SEX, and defined a new generation of punk style by designing and dressing some of the most iconic punk rockers, such as the Sex Pistols. Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, who was the Sex Pistols’ manager and longtime partner in Westwood’s boutique, created one of the most provocative and now quintessential garments of punk rock style: the bondage suit. Inspired by standard-issue army pants McLaren brought back from the United States, Westwood used black sateen from the waistcoats of British rail clerks and added bondage straps to accomplish the sado-masochistic look.
Punk music and style were known for causing a stir at the time on both the political and social level, condemned for its anarchic and overly provocative looks. Along with the use of latex fabric and provocative designs, Westwood and McLaren’s bondage gear was perhaps the most shocking fashion choice, bringing elements of sexual subculture to the surface. In the decades that followed, however, this controversial design moment became not only a key element of punk designs, but a mainstream garment re-purposed by the high fashion community.