The fashionable funeral: How the elite paid tribute to Vivienne Westwood

Choosing funeral attire can be more stressful than picking a wedding outfit, even without the fears of upstaging a bride or groom. Guests at the London memorial service for Dame Vivienne Westwood overcame their inhibitions by paying tribute to the fashion trailblazer in vivid tartans, bright suits, punk cargo pants and glittering cocktail dresses.

Westwood died in December, aged 81, a designer respected by the establishment despite a rebellious spirit honed at the safety-pin strewn forefront of the punk movement. At the service timed for the beginning of London Fashion Week, mourners including Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, Yasmin Le Bon and Helena Bonham Carter cherry-picked from Westwood’s style signatures of debauched Victoriana, highland flimsies and exaggerated tailoring.

Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Moss and Paloma Faith attend the memorial service for fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood at London’s Southwark Cathedral.Credit:AP

The sight of designer Marc Jacobs in a pearl necklace, nightclub promoter Phillip Sallon in boxing gloves and singer Paloma Faith in a copper ballgown might surprise those used to mourning uniforms of black, but even in the front row at funerals, Westwood’s tribe is on trend.

“An increasing number of people believe that we should celebrate a person’s life the way that they lived it,” says Kate Morgan, founder of Tomorrow funerals in Melbourne. “That can be through the way we dress, which can help with the grieving process.”

“It’s becoming more common for guests to be asked to dress in a certain colour. To help people through what can be a difficult time, it’s important to be clear about the dress code on the invitation.”

The dress code for Westwood’s memorial of “if in doubt, dress up” was suitable for a designer who popularised fetish wear at her store Sex and created a wedding dress for Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City movie.

For Kate Moss, that meant a beret and black floral dress, unbuttoned to reveal fishnet stockings and the type of sky-high heels that memorably sent Naomi Campbell tumbling to the runway in 1993. Former model Liberty Ross, a regular on the Westwood catwalk, layered a faux-fur trimmed coat over a low-cut cocktail dress.

“Letting your own creativity come through can be healing,” Morgan says. “It’s about dressing in a way that the person who died would love to welcome you.”

At the 2021 state funeral for Australian designer Carla Zampatti, former politician Julie Bishop in a feather-trimmed cocktail dress, newsreader Georgie Gardiner in a cream print dress and the founder of the Australia China Art Foundation Yashian Schauble, wearing a dramatic custom blue and black dress, expressed grief by looking beyond black.

At the January funeral of Brisbane designer Daniel Lightfoot, who died on Christmas day aged 58, his ex-wife Suzie and daughter Paris instructed guests to wear “anything but black”.

“We wanted people to show up and remember the magic that Daniel had of making someone feel special in one of his outfits,” Suzie says. For the colourful occasion Suzie wore a bold red dress. “I also didn’t want him looking down and saying ‘darl, what are you wearing?’”

Suzie, a former model who now works as a motivational speaker, modelled for Westwood in London and when the designer visited Australia in the nineties.

“To have everyone turn up at her memorial service expressing her art form is the ultimate tribute,” Suzie says. “That’s why people design. It’s the same as a singer having their song played at a funeral. It’s the final giving back to them.”

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