WESTWOOD: PUNK. ICON. ACTIVIST.
Director: Lorna Tucker
André Leon Talley
Runtime: 84 mins.
Australian release date: 18 October 2018
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Paddington, Sydney, on 9 October 2018.
Punk evolved in Britain in the mid-1970s as a reaction to Maggie Thatcher’s hard-line free market economic policies, coinciding with her elevation to the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975 and then to Prime Minister in 1979. It was a movement that rejected middle-class Tory values and, according to the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, “… seeing if one could put a spoke in the system.” It was a rebellion against the class system that’s endemic in British society and it spawned a whole new perspective on music, fashion and social attitudes. Although a Dame since 2006, in the ‘70s Westwood was the Queen of Punk fashion and now her influential life and career are being examined for the first time in a feature-length documentary by US video-maker Lorna Tucker, Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist..
Westwood (née Swire), together with her partner at the time, Malcolm McLaren, started up a fashion business retailing from a shop in the Kings Road called SEX; McLaren also managed the Sex Pistols, the notorious flag bearers of the Punk music scene. The pair was integral to the ripped, raw and safety-pinned ‘look’ of Punk before Westwood moved on to her New Romantic period and other, later, phases. Her styles have been embraced by many of fashion’s super-models over the course of her career and she is considered one of the icons of British fashion to this day, having twice won the award for British Designer of the Year. Westwood eventually separated from McLaren, who was, by her account, thoroughly egotistical - although they did produce a son Joseph Corré (she already had one son, Ben, from her first marriage to Derek Westwood, whose surname she kept). In 1992 she married Andreas Kronthaler, a fashion student from Austria, who has been a great influence on her creative and business life and they remain together to this day. When interviewed in Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist., Kronthaler speaks highly of his partner on both a personal and professional level and it is apparent that she relies heavily on his advice, while still having the final say when decisions about their designs are made. Tucker’s documentary captures this bizarre but fascinating union.
The film takes us behind the scenes of Vivienne Westwood’s fashion house and alongside the designer as she ruminates about losing artistic control of her eponymous label due to the pressure of producing so many collections; on one occasion she declares a line of clothing to be “shit.” She doesn’t hold back when being interviewed either and claims that the need for her to tell all is “boring…” She is evidently not at ease in front of the camera yet she belies her 76 years, cutting an impressive figure and showing no sign of putting down her pencils and pins just yet. In later life, Westwood has become more and more active in environmental causes and has campaigned for nuclear disarmament, climate change and Green movements, and it’s evident from this activism that she’s still a force to be reckoned with.
Indeed, it seems that Westwood had a major falling out with the director of Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist. just before the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, because she tweeted that the doco was “mediocre.” Which just goes to show that the anarchic nature of Punk, its anti-establishment ethos, is still very much part of Westwood’s psyche even while heading up a global empire estimated to be worth more than 50 million pounds. How revolutionary is that?