Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist Review

The opening shot of director Lorna Tucker’s documentary perfectly captures the philosophy that has made Vivienne Westwood such an influential cultural figure for the past 40 years.

Choosing to leave in what would normally be an outtake for any other documentary Tucker shows us Westwood perched on the edge of her seat exasperated with the idea of talking about her life. There may well be a film crew waiting to piece together the story of her career but for Westwood there couldn’t be anything less interesting than looking backwards.

The inclusion of Westwood’s activism (or lack of, according to the designer) produced a terse response that saw her label the documentary ‘mediocre’. It’s less of a reflection on the quality of Tucker’s film and yet again another reminder of where Westwood’s mind is right now, with her passion to help the planet burning brighter than her commitment to fashion.

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist works through some of her career highlights aided by talking head interviews with her husband Andreas, sons Ben Westwood, Joseph Corré (fathered by McLaren and owner of Agent Provocateur), and CEO of the company, Carlo D’Amario with a sprinkling of comments from Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and some close members of her team.

Westwood came from humble beginnings, born into a working class family in Cheshire in 1941, a world away from the cutting edge fashion that would revolutionise teen culture a few decades later. Despite her troubled relationship with McLaren, their time together saw them create what is now known as the World End’s shop in Chelsea, where her edgy designs were made to the sounds of punk’s fuck you defiance before changing lanes to influence the 80s new wave look.

Only small selections of her designs are shown and discussed, but we get the safety pins, giant plastic heels and contemporary couture gowns. It took years for her to be accepted by the fashion establishment and she remained a figure of ridicule by those who couldn’t get their head round her bold approach.

Tucker moves between past and present and it is Westwood’s current situation that proves the most intriguing. With 120 retail outlets worldwide she is concerned the brand has become too big for her to control as she once did. Almost 400 people are employed in a company which has grown significantly since she was sewing dresses to sell her in shop. Westwood is aware she is now firmly part of the establishment she still clearly despises – which is part of the price she has had to pay for her success.

Her activist involvement continues to draw her away from the business to the point where husband Andreas completely oversees the completion of the new range. Now in her mid-seventies she appears to have as much energy as always but is clearly concerned about the direction her company has taken and will continue to take when she is no longer here.

In years to come there will no doubt be a biography film made about her eventful life (Tucker scores the film with sweeping orchestral pieces that are reminiscent of PTA’s Phantom Thread) although as this documentary reveals, attempting to bottle her into 90 minutes will only ever capture a small fraction of this enigmatic woman.


A long overdue look at one of contemporary culture's most influential figures.


out of 10

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