Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

by Toby Woollaston

WestwoodPunkIconActivistThis year has now produced two notable documentaries about British fashion designers. But where the recently released McQueen was a straight stare at a life that burnt bright, Westwood dials things back and is a more measured examination of a designer still working.

From the outset, the film makes it clear that Vivienne does not want to tell us her life story. In the film’s only vagary, it’s difficult to discern if she is apologetically embarrassed about boring us with her stories, or unapologetically annoyed about boring herself with them. What is abundantly clear though, is that Westwood is a straight shooter offering some Gordon Ramsey styled moments of non-minced vocabulary.  

The documentary dispenses with her upbringing, beginning instead in the seventies when Westwood was busy confronting society with the self-proclaimed invention of punk. It was when punk became fashionable, rather than a middle finger to the establishment it was supposed to be, that Westwood branched off and seriously honed her skill as a clothes designer.  Unsurprisingly, her punk sensibility (which is still in evidence today) raised the ire of the British fashion fraternity. Her label independently forged on nonetheless and even to this day, it’s rapid expansion clashes with her desire to maintain control of it. 

Westwood is a wonderful sensory experience and its fractured visual approach makes for an engaging experience. Fledgeling Director Lorna Tucker has done a commendable job of harnessing the copious amount of archival footage, presenting it in an imaginative way. A tapestry of overlapping imagery and footage jumps around the screen, building on the film’s larger canvas. 

Although visually rewarding, the documentary lacks the narrative bite to match Westwood’s iconoclastic persona. There are interesting flash-points of drama throughout, but as a whole, the film doesn’t have the punch of contemporaries such as McQueen—obviously, a lot more difficult when the subject of your doco is still alive and kicking.

Even so, Westwood is a worthwhile documentary that demonstrates how an outspoken provocateur, who is pointed in the right direction, can be an effective agent for positive change. And if the film teaches us one thing it is that the world needs punks, icons, and activists.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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