Perhaps only a few of you know Vivienne Westwood by name but you’ve seen her influence in all sorts of dingy corners since the late ‘70s. During the rise of the Punk scene in England in the late ‘70s, Westwood was at the forefront of the movement and is widely credited with creating the rebellious fashion sense of provocative images and tattered threads. But Vivienne Westwood is more than just Punk’s designer. In the decades that followed, Westwood would launch her own fashion line and devote her time towards political activism. Now the life of Vivienne Westwood is the subject of the new documentary from director Lorna Tucker, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist. It’s a nice little documentary that doesn’t dare to dig too deep, mostly covering the varying of chapters of Westwood’s life quickly while avoiding any and all controversy.
The film opens with Vivienne Westwood give a bit of direction to the film’s director, instructing Tucker not to ask too specific a question and allow Westwood to just riff as pausing for recollection might take too long. Perhaps this is included in the final film as a way to warn viewers that not quite everything is going to be tackled in this cinematic portrait of Vivienne Westwood, which certainly is the case. Early on, Westwood focuses on a rote presentation of biographical information about Westwood – her enrollment in art school, her first marriage to Derek Westwood.
The life story of Vivienne Westwood gets interesting once we get to the period of her life where she was with Malcom McLaren. The two soon took over a shop on the King’s Road. At first Malcom was just selling records out of the back of Paradise Garage. Then the shop became Let It Rock before morphing into Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die. Once it changed again and became Sex, the names of McLaren and Westwood would be forever linked to the rise of punk rock.
Sex sold an array of fetish wear at a time when it was rather controversial. A number of ne’er do well youths hung around the shop and it was only a matter of time before McLaren put them together as a band that he’d manage, The Sex Pistols. Punk exploded and the fashions made by Westwood defined a cultural movement. However, the Pistols would only release a single album before breaking up. McLaren and Westwood would collaborate on a number of fashion lines modeled after the punk explosion before Vivienne Westwood would set out on her own.
On her own, Vivienne Westwood would open her own line of shops dedicated to selling her fashion creations, which at first were coldly met by the tastemakers within the old guard of fashion. Over time, though, she became a major force in the world with a bustling company and shops all over the world. At the same time, though, she expanded her interest in political causes – something that the film handles as a footnote towards the end, which is odd considering “activist” appears in the film’s title.
Lorna Tucker’s film really could’ve been so much more insightful rather than the brief biography that it truly is. Here is the story of a woman whose work was rooted in rebellion but ultimately made her part of the establishment and yet the film is mostly chatter. Biographical details and how she wasn’t welcomed by the fashion world at first are illustrated through some archival footage. The camera follows Westwood around as she’s overseeing the work being done with her name emblazoned on the label, but you don’t really walk away with any new information about Vivienne Westwood from a lot of these scenes.
Despite her many successes, Vivienne Westwood still has that independent, rebellious spirit. If only the movie about her had that same kind of defiant attitude. Vivienne Westwood took preexisting items and slashed them and modified them until they took the form of something bold and new. Oh how I wish that Lorna Tucker was willing to do the same thing to her movie and make Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist worthy of its subject.