Fashion icon Vivienne Westwood dead at 81

STORY: Vivienne Westwood - the fashion icon synonymous with 1970s punk rock, a rebelliousness that remained the hallmark of an unapologetically political designer who became one of British fashion's biggest names - died on Thursday at the age of 81.

Her fashion house tweeted that she died peacefully surrounded by family in South London.

Climate change, pollution, and her support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were all fodder for protest T-shirts or banners carried by her models on the runway.

WESTWOOD: "I just use my fashion as an excuse to say what I think about politics and culture, really. I think fashion can do something. I think my fashion gives you an incredible choice in an age of conformity and it makes you look great and it helps you express your individuality."

Instantly recognizable with her orange or white hair, Westwood first made a name for herself in punk fashion in 1970s London, dressing the punk rock band that defined the genre - the Sex Pistols.

Often looking to history, her influential designs have included corsets, Harris Tweed suits and taffeta

ballgowns.

Westwood used her public profile to champion issues including nuclear disarmament and to protest against anti-terrorism laws and government spending policies that hit the poor. She joined protests and frequently turned her models into catwalk eco-warriors.

"Because I'm so traumatized by the shock of understanding what's going to happen if the Earth gets hotter. And in a couple of generations billions of people will die unless we do something now."

The Westwood brand flourished in the 1990s, with fashionistas flocking to her runway shows in Paris, and stores opening around the world selling her lines, accessories and perfumes.

Westwood was inducted into Britain's establishment in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth II who awarded her the Order of the British Empire medal.