Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

British director Lorna Tucker’s debut full-length film “Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist” is a fascinating, ‘all-access-granted’ documentary that presents the life and work of the renowned British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. It does so in a remarkably honest, uncritical, and inspiring way.

Despite being a model in her younger years and, therefore, understanding how the fashion world works, Tucker didn’t know Westwood too well. They met for the first time on a film set in 2008, where the designer completely entranced her with her eccentric image and energy. They quickly bonded over shared opinions on social and environmental causes as well as creative works. Tucker had quite a hard time convincing Westwood to approve of starring in a film, which was inspired by her incredible life story (evidently, the designer agreed).

Despite the planned six months of filming, Tucker continued for another two-and-a-half years. The full four-year process of making the film was wrapped right before its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2018. Her decades-long career is presented both through rich archival footage and also newly conducted in-depth interviews with the designer herself, as well as her family, close friends, and colleagues. There are also behind-the-scenes shots from different runway backstages and meetings. One can see everything from the difficult beginnings, full of financial struggles and disapproval of the public, to the extraordinary business, creative and activist accomplishments. It could be said that the film is a sort of hommage to one of the greatest cultural icons of our time.

Tucker strove to present all parts of the designer’s colorful life, even the more complicated ones, in the most authentic way possible. However, Westwood disapproved of the decision to include them all in the film. Due to this reason, she and the director eventually grew apart. After the premiere, Westwood’s team came out with a statement saying that the designer does not approve of the film since, in her opinion, it did not focus on her activism enough. Despite this claim, Tucker still stands firmly behind her decision to include moments of vulnerability and doubt, since they are both a part of all our lives.

Despite all of this, Westwood remains quite an entertaining subject to watch. The film follows her story from her upbringing in post-war Derbyshire up to the opening of her most recent store. Her career began in the 60s, when she was a single mother to her son Ben from her first marriage. In the middle of the decade she met Malcolm McLaren, an art student, whom she soon married (they also had a son, Joseph). At the beginning of the 70s, the pair opened a clothing and record shop together in London which soon became the hub of the punk movement.

Once McLaren became the manager of the well-known punk group Sex Pistols, Westwood was in charge of making their costumes and quickly became a punk icon. However, she soon realized that the movement became nothing but a fashion trend and turned to high fashion instead. By this point, she also left McLaren, both professionally and privately, who, in turn, grew jealous of his ex-partner’s success and proceeded to cause her company great damage. During the filming, Westwood denied speaking much of the period so the ‘burden’ fell onto the shoulders of her son, Joseph.

Her path to success in the fashion world was riddled with hardships. Many ridiculed her extravagant collections and the company almost went bankrupt in the 80s. Slowly, the British public accepted her and ultimately she became a crucial member of the British fashion industry. This is proved by two ‘British Fashion Designer of the Year’ awards in a row. In 1992, Queen Elizabeth II awarded her with an honorary Order of The British Empire title, ‘dame’. The same year, she met her third husband, Andreas Kronthaler. In the last few years, Westwood has turned even more towards environmental activism, whilst Kronthaler has been the main creative force behind the brand.

Even with the eventful stories, the tone of the film is noticeably calming, which makes it quite easy and pleasant to watch. Westwood’s story is, for the first time, presented in a truly complete way. In recent years, there has been an even greater demand for gender equality, which contributes to the relevancy of the film and its topics. Tucker was not surprised by the positive feedback from the viewers, though she didn’t expect it to be so extensive. The story of a woman who is, regardless of her age, still an incredible business owner, a creative, and activist force is, indeed, truly remarkable and inspiring.

Vita Rau

Graphic design: Ana Znidarsic