Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST. Starting: Vivienne Westwood as herself. Directed by Lorna

Tucker. Rated M (Coarse language). 84 min.

This is a British documentary that tells the story of Vivienne Westwood, as she fights to hold onto the integrity of her fashion brand, and satisfy the principle of “being authentic” that was so important to her as a leading British dress designer.

In 1992, Westwood was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the fashion industry, and she has been named Designer of the Year twice in a row in Britain, much to the chagrin of some of her peers. Westwood made a name for herself early on London’s fashion scene by branding her designs to demonstrate the spirit of the punk movement in the 70’s when she lived with ex-partner, Malcolm McLaren, who was manager of the Sex Pistols at the time. With a rebellious and fiercely independent spirit, she has influenced, and radicalised British fashion for more than forty years.

Now 77 years of age, she fights on with energy, vibrancy and drive. As the film opens, Westwood looks sternly across to her interviewer, Lorna Tucker (the Director of the film), and complains about how boring it all is - before Tucker delivers a stimulating documentary of a living, cultural icon. Westwood was notoriously difficult, and a well-known anti-conformist.

The film uses archival footage and interviews with Westwood and her collaborators to plot her life from childhood in Derbyshire, UK, to the high fashion catwalks of London, Paris and Milan. Westwood is proof that fashion and creativity has no age limit. Now, at an advanced age and still designing, Westwood found it difficult to be accepted in Britain, but persisted to win the day, and rose through personal conflicts and professional tensions to become a leading fashionista on the international fashion stage. From a restless teenager she became an iconoclastic designer, who is still feted by those who want to be seen wearing her extraordinary clothes. And the documentary shows a lot of them, often startling the viewer with their shape, colour, style, and form.

The film is an intimate and revealing portrayal of a fascinating individual. Westwood is frank about her life, and she discusses the difficulties and frustrations of trying to run a successful company in a cut-throat world that often puts consumerism and profit before integrity. In her lifetime, she was mocked by the press and other dress designers for a look she believed in, and she had to cope with the tactics of a vengeful ex-partner, Malcolm McLaren, who did all he could to pull her down. Over time, she became an outspoken environmental activist, and the film triumphantly displays Westwood’s eccentricity and individualism as an Icon and an Activist.

Westwood designed clothes that looked torn - hinting at the possibility of bondage - and were held together by safety pins, both design features characterising the look of Punk. Westwood herself seems not willing to discuss too much the tensions of her relationship to ex-partner, Malcolm McLaren, and why her fashions were so successful using Soviet and Nazi symbols. She passionately believed in the Punk look, but she was astute enough to realise it provided her with a marketing opportunity for a fashion look that was decidedly different, and which was ready to be embraced by a young-following, eager to react to what the older generation considered more  appropriate. In much of her work, she benefited enormously from the creative, dependent  and affectionate relationship she had with her artistic designer, and partner in marriage, Andreas Kronthaler.

The movie discusses Westwood’s “Activism” which is in defence of the environment, especially climate change, but it spends most time on Westwood as cultural “Icon”. Her designs have been, and still are, bizarrely outlandish and much in demand, and offer an amazing testament to her creativity. This is a compelling and engrossing documentary of a fascinating individual, which  captures Westwood’s creative energy and professional drive, and probably goes as deep as Westwood, an ardent individualist, was willing to permit.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Madman Entertainment

Released October 18th., 2018

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