WHY HER? In a fashion world gone horribly Versace, the Brit outlaw designs clothing with edge, wit, and brainy voluptuousness. Westwood -- who practically invented British couture -- is being honored with a lavish retrospective exhibit at London's Victoria & Albert Museum (through July 11) and an accompanying coffee-table book. ''Alexander McQueen and [John] Galliano -- they're clearly Vivienne's children,'' says Fashion Institute of Technology's museum director Valerie Steele. ''Their whole approach couldn't have existed if Vivienne hadn't paved the way with her transgressive, theatrical vision.''
BUILT TO SPILL ''Vivienne brought in, more than anyone else, the underwear-as-outerwear phenomenon,'' says Steele. ''As time went on, she moved away from transgressive street style [starting most famously with the Sex Pistols] to a kind of pastiche of historical style.'' Translation: Corsets!
CELEB ENDORSEMENTS Westwood devotees include Cameron Diaz, Madonna, Kate Moss, and Jerry Hall.