Vivienne Westwood is a fashion legend who gained her now iconic status as a designer by infiltrating the fashion scene with her rock n’ roll attitude and anti-establishment sentiment. Lorna Tucker’s documentary sets out to introduce us to the lesser-known antics of one of the most enigmatic women in fashion as well as give us knowledge of her business roots and how her brand has evolved with time. Presented to us is a historic and pivotal moment in the design world, Vivienne Westwood went from being humiliated on television as audience members laughed her designs off the stage to being one of the most sought after creatives in her field. Misunderstood by a generation she actively fought against, the world wasn’t ready for her just yet.
“Provocative, beautiful, respectful. It’s hard to imagine how designs could be all those things at once.” – Christina Hendricks
If you’re well read on Westwood, or the industry in general, you probably already know a lot of what is told to us in this film. What interested me was getting an insight into a business and person that could be described as impenetrable to outsiders. But this documentary follows more of a bullet point structure rather than a typical linear history of its subject. If you, like me, came in naïve and ready to have details tossed at you lovingly, I’m afraid to say that won’t be happening. As the film opens Westwood makes it clear she finds talking about the early days “boring.” Fitting with her bold and at times ruthless personality, she resists Tucker’s attempts to dig too deep into her past, and the film quickly lands in the fast-paced turns of the designer’s entry into the landscape she would end up calling home. That feels quite on brand, but it also means it’s a bit formless. It jumps around in time and tone just as people do when they’re recalling past events. To some this might seem more natural but to me it left me wanting more. More information, structure… and especially more personal touches.
Westwood is an awesome lady and a phenomenon; although Punk, Icon, Activist gives us a taste of her experiences and feelings regarding her now empire, it doesn’t take a step further to really provide something special. The film is made up of a lot of archive footage, but present time tells a different story; Vivienne has become worried about her brand integrity. As she struggles to recall the job descriptions of the people working around her and starts to lose touch of her quality over quantity work ethic, she begins to downscale her business to maintain her principles. It’s easy to get a grasp on what type of person she is. Westwood remembers the working class environment she was born into but has adapted to many different locations and roles. She is harsh but truthful, slightly unapproachable but caring of the people and the world around her.
If you’re interested in seeing inner-workings and the backstage drama this might win you over. From the days of anarchic creative revolution to the refined and large-scale productions, Westwood tells the story of a fast paced and sometimes brutal industry that doesn’t stop for anyone. Additionally, people such as celebrities, curators and family members give their two cents on what makes her art so unique. It’s a shame Westwood wasn’t willing to go more into the birth of punk rock, because it seems that —however subliminal it now may be in her work— it is still a major part of her vision and personal outlook. She continues to protest against capitalistic methods that ignore rallying calls for being green and is passionate about climate change, too. In her pieces you can see pops of inspiration infused with gender politics and individualism. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t dive deeper into how it all comes together instead of the broader outlook the doc gives us.
Stories about real life figures can fascinate in a way dramatised history can’t. To put it simply, the mystery of human beings is a riddle that never ceases to pull us in and inspire us to solve and empathise. Unlike the lady it’s about, Punk, Icon, Activist fails to bring anything new or edgy to the table and instead opts for snapshots into the life and ponders of one of fashion’s leading statement-makers.
Hello, I am a Scottish filmmaker who enjoys writing about movies and reading comics! You can follow me on Twitter @_trudiegraham or on Instagram @tru.die