Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (2018) ****

March 20th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Lorna Tucker | With Vivienne Westwood | Biopic | 83′

British anti-establishment icon Vivienne Westwood is known for her avant-garde and inspirational designs. But ironically what comes across in Lorna Tucker’s enjoyably brisk debut documentary is Westwood’s utter straightforwardness and lack of guile: qualities so refreshing in the self-regarding world of fashion, making her popularity no surprise. While her minions prance and pose, Vivienne Westwood calls a spade, a spade – in her syrupy Derbyshire accent:”Let me just talk and get it over with, I will get into it, but it’s all so boring” she complains at the start of this linear look into how she became the ‘wild child’ of the British fashion world, ‘inventing’ Punk and taking 20 years to gain official recognition for her creative talents, before turning her pioneering gaze towards saving the planet and climate change. Defiant she may be, and she certainly takes no prisoners, describing Johnny Rotten’s ageing anarchy as distinctly démodé. Westwood’s ideas are progressive; she has no desire to rest on her laurels or even accumulate wealth: what excites her is making choice garments for her clients, rather than further expanding the self-made empire over which she has still complete financial and artistic control. Dialling down to quality rather than up to quantity is the watchword, Westwood-wise. But she realises that her expanding workforce entirely depends on her and that’s a concern she now wrestles with.

In her lifetime Westwood has so far had two epiphany moments that have given rise to her defiance. The first was discovering that the sweet baby Jesus sold to her by her parents later died tragically on the Cross, forcing her to question every figure of authority going forward. The second was discovering that climate change was actually here to stay, causing her to become an environmental activist.

This desire to both protect and protest seems to be at the core of Westwood’s being. But despite her individuality she has always worked closely with her partners: first with music impresario Malcolm McClaren who was the catalyst for the establishment of her Kings Road shop ‘Sex’ as the two struggled to create the global brand that Westwood now admits is becoming unwieldy. She currently enjoys a productive partnership with her third husband, and former student, Austrian designer Andreas Kronthaler, who confesses his near obsessive love for every part of her. It’s clear the two share the same values despite their 25 year-age gap. And Westwood is honest and genuine as she talks candidly about her fears for her business, and disenchantment with some of her workers’ lack of focus. Talking heads are minimal but include her younger son Joseph Corre, founder of Agent Provocateur, and the Westwood CEO Carlo D’Amario, a former carpet impresario with sterling contacts in the international fashion world.

But Westwood is the shining light here: her honesty and inspirational charisma make us genuinely warm to her especially as the pathway to success has been beset by those who would do her down: as evidenced in a clip from TV. Lorna Tucker has certainly done a great job in uncovering the real Vivienne Westwood for those who found her image difficult to engage with. Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist covers all the bases in just over an hour, and will go down well with fans and those with a penchant for British eccentricity in modern design. MT



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