Vivienne Westwood and the astrology of punk

A look at the astrology of fashion’s punk doyenne, Vivienne Westwood, including an irresistible side-road meander to check out the astrology surrounding the Sex Pistols and the birth of punk.

Early in the documentary about her released in 2018, the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood recounts a story of seeing a crucified Jesus in her childhood.

When I was little, I saw a picture of the crucifixion, and it really did change my life. I thought to myself, ‘My parents, they’ve been deceiving me. They’ve told me all about baby Jesus, but they never told me what happened to him.’

And I just thought, ‘I can’t trust the people in this world. I’ve got to find out for myself. This kind of thing can’t happen.’

An indignant horror still in her voice, she continues: “I did feel that I had to be like a knight, to stop people doing terrible things to each other.”

Vivienne Westwood mirrored over London
"Vivienne Westwood over Tokyo (mirrored)" by moophisto. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The theme repeats in a biography published in 2014. Her family is described as encouraging her independence, allowing her to read to her heart’s content, climb trees, and explore the countryside (Venus on the IC in her chart—which we’ll get to below—suggests a supportive childhood home). In school, she envisioned herself as a “kind of champion, even as a little girl.”

She’s also said: “I liked being me, and I happened to be a girl. I wanted to be a hero and saw no reason why a girl couldn’t be one.”

I wanted to be a hero and saw no reason why a girl couldn’t be one.

Born with a sword in hand

For more than four decades consistently one of the most creative designers in fashion, Vivienne Westwood clothed the nascent London and New York punk scenes, including the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls.

Westwood’s chart reflects the themes that have permeated her life: creativity, glamour, activism, and the power of rebellion. With the war goddess Eris on the South Node in Aries in the 3rd house of her chart, she may well have felt as if she were born with a sword in her hand.

The asteroid Pallas on her Ascendant, at about a 7-minute orb, is one of the closest aspects in her chart: with Pallas here, she’s fiercely intelligent, a fighter, and she’ll work via wisdom and strategy—while never sacrificing her independence. Her design firm is one of the few remaining independent fashion houses in the world.

Her tremendous Aries energy—she has Venus conjunct the Sun in Aries, along with Eros, Minerva, and the South Node in the sign—underlines the emphasis on a fighting spirit. A Moon conjunct activist Juno in Leo adds to the readiness to fight on behalf of the common good, while her Mars in Aquarius closely opposing an 8th house Pluto in Leo adds weight to the punch.

But with Venus in the 3rd house of communication and with Mercury also there, in Pisces, her weapons will be words, communication—and her Libra Midheaven reflects a career in the arts, creating beauty.

All’s fair in love and war

It’s not just any kind of beauty, though. Westwood makes art out of the outrageous. Where is this in her chart? In a striking conjunction, Westwood has Black Moon Lilith (BML) closely conjunct Aphrodite, which can act as a secondary Venus. Aphrodite here, as I see it, acts to beautify BML’s dark outsider power and rage—not tempering BML, necessarily, but making her a bit more palatable, more likely to be accepted. Indeed, there’s a sense in which Westwood has created beauty out of outsider rage. Ceres also trines BML, suggesting she’ll receive support for being, in some sense, a “bad girl.” Westwood’s natal Mars-Pluto opposition tightly squares this BML-Aphrodite conjunction, adding to the opposition’s explosive power.

Reflecting that prominent BML, Westwood appears to embrace sex as a form of power. Lilith gets a portion of her notoriety from her association with unashamed, unfettered female sexuality. In some versions of the story, Lilith, said to have been Adam’s first wife, started the first battle of the sexes when she refused the missionary position. Future feminists everywhere cheered, but Lilith paid a price—expelled from Eden, she became the original outsider.

In a 2001 interview, Westwood was asked to comment on Agent Provocateur, her son’s lingerie line. “My son has followed fashion since he was a punk,” she said. “He and I agree that fashion is about sex. ‘Fashion is about eventually being naked,’ I once said.”

Fashion is about eventually being naked.

A woman so deeply involved in the production of fashion would, no doubt, take intellectual issue with feminism’s objections to objectification, as it were. In the same interview, she’s asked “How would you respond to criticism that your aesthetic is not in line with feminism?” She responded:

I think feminists are unaware of the tremendous extent of the role of women in history. Regarding the patronage of the arts, their influence has been immense. It’s almost true to say that there wouldn’t be any art if it weren’t for women. Feminists wish women to seem like men. They’re not men. I think women (and men) should flirt: all’s fair in love and war.

Agree or disagree with these statements, there’s a sense in which Westwood and her clothes embrace and celebrate the power of sexuality—and that’s very BML-Aphrodite.

Westwood also has Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter closely aligned in her 5th house of creativity. These outer-planet heavyweights combine a rebellious spirit (that explosive Uranus-Jupiter conjunction) with Saturn’s discipline, authority, and reliability: since the early 1980s, Westwood has been producing wildly creative new collections with formidable consistency.

Clothes for Heroes

In her early 20s, Vivienne married Derek Westwood, a nightclub manager. At age 22, she had her first son. But she quickly became disenchanted with the role of housewife, she shares in the documentary—“what a lot of old bollocks that is”—and the marriage ended quickly. “I had to get out,” she says in the documentary. “Derek and I split up mostly because I was not fulfilling my potential to understand something about the world.”

In 1965, Westwood met the art student and situationist Malcolm McLaren. The two began to sell clothes and records together in London. Variously named, their shop came to serve as a center of the London punk scene.

The names alone evoke the era: the shop was, first, Let it Rock. That became Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die. Next, it was SEX, with the slogan “Rubberwear for the Office.” As the ethos converged to birth what was at that moment becoming known as punk, Westwood’s heroic theme re-emerged: in 1977, the shop became Seditionaries: Clothes for Heroes.

By the mid ’70s, Westwood and McLaren were designing for the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls—influencing not only the development of punk but the entire aesthetic of the 80s and the birth of a countercultural scene that continues to have influence today. The two have a fascinating synastry and composites.

Malcolm & Vivienne

Malcolm’s out of sign Sun-Venus conjunction, which mirrors Vivienne’s, virtually ensured he would find favor in some way, while his close Mars-Saturn conjunction suggests an ability to take the lead in authoritative ways (even if he might occasionally trip himself up). His Jupiter-Juno conjunction also echoes the inherent politicism of Westwood’s chart. Falling in her 10th house of career, it squares her Vertex, the point of fated relationships: he would, indeed, be pivotal to her work.

Remarkably, his Sun-Venus conjunction falls very close to her Mars in Aquarius: in a sense, he made what she did shine. That conjunction also trines her North Node: he would be a guiding light in helping her find her destiny. Meanwhile, his Sun opposes her Pluto at a very tight orb—just 10 minutes—and his Pluto trines her Pallas-Ascendant conjunction at about 1 degree. Photos of her around this time often show her radiantly confident: it’s likely he empowered her (highlighting her Pluto), and she may well have felt invigorated, more radically self-assured and independent (Pallas) around him.

Malcolm & Vivienne's composites

Their composites speak to the countercultural element of their partnership. A Sun-Venus-Eros conjunction in Pisces in the midpoint composite explains their tremendously creative magnetism and appeal. A Jupiter-Pluto conjunction in Leo near the North Node suggests the potential for considerable power and influence, while BML on the South Node points to the radical, boundary-defying nature of their bond—and perhaps to the possibility they’ve stirred up trouble together in past lives (or at least that doing so comes naturally to them). Meanwhile, a Neptune-Uranus trine suggests making glamour, romance, magnetism, out of the edges, the rebellious, the avant-garde.

The Davison shifts the focus to Virgo, with a Sun-Moon-Venus conjunction in the detail-oriented sign. It suggests the precision required to create the effortlessly slouched, somehow elegant designs of their shop at the time—and McLaren and Westwood themselves radiated Virgo’s clean perfection at the same time that their clothes were a torn, chaotic, safety-pinned mess. A Mars-Chiron square in the Davison hints at the eventual bitter end to their partnership: as told in the documentary, McLaren fought her breaking off the partnership to launch her own independent design firm, costing her millions.

The Sex Pistols: Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die

In summer 1977, as London celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, McLaren saw an opportunity to make a scene. It was the dawn of punk. Westwood’s progressed Sun was conjoining her natal Uranus while squaring her natal Juno, suggesting political activism, an inability to “square with” the status quo, rebellion, even brilliance. As progressed Saturn also moved to conjoin her natal Jupiter, she and McLaren were among the crowd arrested at a Sex Pistols show that famously took place on a boat travelling the Thames.

“God Save the Queen,” an anti-anthem: check out this video for footage of the Thames show and police raid.

The band had formed about two years earlier, with McLaren the impresario who saw the potential of a handful of young regulars at the shop. In the chart for the Sex Pistols, based on the night they played their first show, Jupiter is on Westwood’s Sun. Neptune is about to cross her Ascendant, and her Venus is on their Neptune. The band inspired her (Jupiter), while she made them look good (Venus-Neptune)—and, with that Neptune double contact, they would make each other famous.

Vivienne & the Sex Pistols

Meanwhile, transiting Saturn was conjoining Westwood’s Pluto and within a degree of opposition to her Mars. Her work with the Sex Pistols elevated her power and authority (Saturn-Pluto)—at the same time that it found her in serious opposition to the authorities, suggested by transiting Saturn opposite Mars and progressed Saturn on her Jupiter.

On the night of the June 7, 1977, Thames show, the astrology was as spectacular and incendiary as the cultural moment. As the band played (the set notably including a rendition of “Anarchy in the U.K.” before Parliament), the police boats circled. Finally, the cops boarded, apparently itching for a fight. At 8:45 pm in London—a time it’s not unreasonable to think the band were either still playing, or commencing a melée with the police—Neptune was on the Ascendant, Jupiter and the Sun on the Descendant. The event would ignite the on-the-verge-of-exploding punk movement, as well as foreshadow its demise.

In the chart for the show, Venus and Mars oppose Uranus, combining sex appeal with one of the major signatures of punk: perhaps unsurprisingly, Mars-Uranus hard aspects frequently appear in charts associated with punk and its musicians. The asteroid Diana is also conjoining the Vertex, reflecting the Roman goddess of the hunt’s free-spirited independence and unconcern for social mores (not-unrelated aside: Diana was the inspiration for the modern Wonder Woman). In the Sex Pistols’ chart, Pallas—named for Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom—also conjoins Vesta at an exact zero-minute orb, echoing a similar theme of devotion to independence and adding an element of strategy and shrewdness to the message.

Meanwhile, in the Thames show chart, Minerva—the Roman counterpart of Pallas—exactly conjoins Eris, also at a zero-minute orb. And in a spectacular grand cross, Pluto on the Midheaven opposes Eris-Minerva and squares the Neptune-Sun-Jupiter opposition. This configuration suggests a heightened wisdom (Minerva) around the romance and glamor (Neptune) of discord (Eris). With Jupiter and Pluto involved, the charismatic appeal of this mantle continues to be taken up by new adherents today.

It wasn’t, of course, to last. While the night ignited the band and punk, its disillusioning outcome is foreshadowed in the Sex Pistols’ chart by Saturn squaring a Uranus-Mercury conjunction, while the Thames show chart’s Venus-Mars conjunction hovers close to Chiron. As one attendee lamented: “There was a lot of violence that evening. It was our Altamont. Something beautiful that turned into something incredibly ugly.”

In January 1978, the Sex Pistols split. By the following year, Sid Vicious was dead and punk was already on its way to being co-opted. “When there are no more punks,” Vicious reportedly said on the occasion of the band’s final show, “that is when things are going to be okay.”

Yet while punk’s origination story may have burned out fast, it’s ultimately had immeasurable impact. In an echo of the Thames show’s Jupiter-Neptune-Pluto conflagration, punk’s accept-no-limits influence has continued to inspire, hearten, and embolden across the world for generations—see, among countless examples, Marjane Sartrapi’s book-turned-movie Persepolis, a coming-of-age tale set within Iran’s underground punk scene, and Russia’s groundbreaking, defiant-despite-persecution punk band Pussy Riot.

When there are no more punks, that is when things are going to be okay.

Punk's politics

The clothes she designed were meant as protest, Westwood laments in the documentary, but the aesthetic quickly took on a life of its own.

She recalls:

We were youth against age, … but it had affected fashion such a lot. The hairstyles, even. My spiky hair was in vogue one month later, and I realized we weren’t really attacking the system at all. It was being marketed all the time. I realized that the real marketing opportunity was that the English society could claim how democratic and how free they were that somehow kids could revolt as much as that. In fact, we weren’t attacking the establishment. We were just part of the distraction.

Interviewed for Time magazine in 2009, Westwood was asked if she ever regrets the use of the swastika in, among other pieces, the iconic t-shirt worn by her above and by the Sex Pistols. She replied: “No, I don’t, because we were just saying to the older generation, ‘We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists.’”

Well, all right. For those who were on the scene, the swastika was intended for nothing more—or less—than pure, unfiltered shock value. But isn’t it still … problematic?

The website Punk77 grapples with early punk’s use of the swastika. Perhaps the most telling comment is from musician Don Letts, the Clash’s videographer: “When you are at school what’s the most rebellious thing you could draw on your book? Exactly. A swastika.”

The statement was: if your civilization produces Nazis then that civilization is rubbish.

Unfortunately, its use quickly made punk a recruiting ground for the far right—an unintended consequence, but a problem that continues to this day. As Chrissie Hynde says in Johnny Rotten’s autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs:

The beauty of the punk thing was that … non-discrimination was what it was all about. There was little or no sexism or racism. For a start everyone loved reggae music. … There was a kind of innocence.

Reggae’s influence on early punk is clear in the development of ska (see, for example, The Slits). And adherents of far-left radical politics—always the primary portion of punk, then and now—organized against the racism appearing at those early shows with groups like Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League.

As punk grew and fractured into various branches, the swastika began to disappear. Punk77 quotes Steve Severin, of Siouxsie and the Banshees, from Johnny Rotten’s autobiography: “The swastikas … to us these weren’t badges of intolerance, but symbols of provocation to an older generation that had to get out of the way to make room for younger voices. … When it was a small movement you could use symbols like that.”

In a 2001 interview, Westwood further commented:

Nazism is politically embedded in our history and it is still there, spreading like an oil stain in a society that worships business. The Sex Pistols gained notoriety by shocking, and it was Malcolm McLaren—who is Jewish on his mother’s side—who introduced the swastika into the iconography of the group. The statement was: if your civilization produces Nazis then that civilization is rubbish.”

Ultimately, the swastika represented a kind of inchoate rage and rebellion, which is both the source of its tremendous power and appeal—and its failing.

Punk77 astutely sums it up:

“You cannot realistically say [the start of punk] was in any way Nazi or associated with right wing ideology or attempting to push said ideology with its use of swastikas. That said it was playing with a loaded gun.”

“Playing with a loaded gun:” with punk’s appeal to the oppressed, the downtrodden, the maligned and kicked-aside, with its ability to ignite anger and rage—both in those it inspires and those it provokes—it could be, in fact, that this gets at something very close to the heart of punk. A loaded shotgun that backfires might be a still better analogy: the romance of self-destruction is a dead end, often quite literally, and the strong Uranus, BML, and Mars signatures in these charts point to an incendiary essence that invariably provokes response.

Yet punk’s ability to both embody and confront ugliness may also be a form of genius. In the Sex Pistols’ chart, Venus opposes BML, echoing the similar connection in Westwood’s chart, and Aphrodite is at the North Node. As Hynde notes, punk embraced without exception. Part of the punk ethos is to take difference, ugliness (or what’s conventionally considered so), and amplify, even love it, in a test of the outer borders of anti-capitalist consumption and expression. In doing so, it has helped create a more egalitarian world.

The turn to couture

The closest aspect in Westwood’s chart is Venus trine Vesta. The suggestion is one of being able to create beauty (Venus) out of what she’s passionate about (Vesta), and Venus in turn blessing those passions with her gifts. Vesta can be single-mindedly focused and determined—and with fashion, Westwood found her calling.

During the post-punk years of the early 80s, Westwood continued to make clothes. In 1981, she created her first full collection, and then, in 1991, showed for the first time in Paris.

“What’s a self-professed fashion anarchist doing in bourgeois Paris anyway?” Westwood is asked in archival footage in the documentary. Her level response reflects Vesta’s single-mindedness:

“You have to go where you have to go. You have to do what you have to do, and I certainly don’t want to be underground. I want to be at a place of the most focus that I can find.”

Vivienne & Andreas

In 1988, Westwood met Andreas Kronthaler, who would become her creative right-hand man. Progressed Venus was conjunct her natal Descendant at the time—a strong suggestion of positive changes in relationship, as well as the possibility of meeting a significant partner. In the documentary, they both say he showed up to work at her firm and simply never left. It’s no surprise they were drawn to one another—despite their age difference (he’s 25 years younger), their synastry is a case study in romantic and creative partnership.

In a remarkable echo of her relationship with McLaren, Andreas’s Sun-Venus conjunction also sits right at Westwood’s Mars, opposing her Pluto-Part of Fortune conjunction. Synastry is like having permanent transits to your own natal chart: it’s as if Andreas brings a perma-sheen of attention and appeal to everything Vivienne does (Mars) while amplifying her natural power (Pluto). A Venus-Mars conjunction, meanwhile, is about as powerful an attraction as it gets—and Venus opposite Pluto adds strong emotional depth. His Eros on her Venus amps up the attraction even more.

I’d like to bring the glamour to couture.

In the documentary, Andreas appears to struggle to find words for his feelings about her. If he knew astrology, he might be less confounded: their powerful aspects suggest a once-in-a-lifetime partnership. “They speak about the love of your life,” he says. “It has never changed. If anything, it became stronger and stronger, the bond. I like everything about her. The smell, the way the hair falls, every millimeter of her little body—everything.” Of him, she says: “The best compliment I can pay Andreas is that I actually like living with him as much as being on my own.”

Their composites are fascinating as well. Both the Davison and the midpoint composite have a Sun-Aphrodite conjunction, while the midpoint composite includes Venus closely conjoining the Sun as well. It’s difficult to find more positive aspects in a relationship chart. In the Davison, the conjunction is in Virgo; in the midpoint, in Pisces, highlighting the combination of exacting craft required for Paris-level fashion and the creativity of their work together.

La plus ça change …

Westwood received an OBE—the Officer of the British Empire award, a recognition for contribution to the arts or sciences—on December 15, 1992. Saturn was trining her Midheaven at the time, and Jupiter trining her Ascendant, signs of personal recognition and career advancement. Neptune also squared her Sun, while Pluto opposed Uranus: the rebel was ascending to fame, recognition, and power. She famously went to the ceremony with the queen sans underwear, which photographers recorded for posterity when they invited her to show off her dress and she twirled for the photo outside. The punk echo of Marilyn Monroe was entirely accidental, she said.

She was then made a Dame—of course, the feminine equivalent of being knighted, in an echo of her childhood visions—in 2006. At the time, she told the Daily Mail: “Don’t ask. It’s the same answer. I don’t wear them with dresses.”

Climate revolution

In recent years, Westwood has received criticism for the consumerism and waste inherent in the pursuit of fashion. In response, she’s trimmed production, focused on ethical sourcing, and, after showing exclusively in Paris for decades, in 2017 moved her runway shows back to London. “The decision … was just rooted in efficiency,” she said at the time. “The brand is based here, and so, logistically, it made more sense to keep the show local. It is about setting an example, and making Vivienne Westwood a model company for the age in which we live.”

At 80 years old, Westwood remains an activist. In 2020, she began to try to raise $100 million—apparently single-handedly—to save rainforests, and has created a blog, Climate Revolution, to document this effort, complete with a zine-ish manifesto called, literally, “Save the World.”

The blog documents her political stances, while fantastic playing cards she’s created as part of the effort are works of art: “Tell children the TRuTH!” chides one card, gesturing to her childhood sense of betrayal and loss of innocence. “BUY LESS” is scribbled in screaming red on the back of another, along with “hope,” “rent,” and “one world.”

One thing it’s impossible to doubt: she’s never been afraid to act, to speak her mind, to take unpopular stances. Even to try to save the world.

Buy less, choose well, make it last.

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May 2024

Vivienne Westwood and the astrology of punk