First she was a punk, then an icon with more than a little activism thrown in.
Vivienne Westwood is clearly a punk. She is truly committed to being anti-establishment, and this position heralds her philosophy from the very first scenes where she doesn’t want to answer questions put to her, has no interest in following film form, or participate in the way the director starts. The 80-minute documentary is not a fashion homage, or at least it wasn’t to me. This is a tribute to a woman who has worked tirelessly to create an independent voice – whether it be in fashion design, the environment, or any other cause she deigns to take up.
Vivienne Westwood is a great character; she speaks her mind in her brusque Derbyshire accent, and is both, intentionally and unintentionally, funny.
However, stealing every scene in which he appears is her husband Andreas Kronthaler. At one moment he seems to be the type of fashion insider satirised by Sacha Baron Cohen, at other moments he could be Sacha Baron Cohen himself. When he describes his love for Vivienne it seems to be heading down a Prince Charles path of “what is love” before he declares his absolute love for every hair and bit of her.
Kronthaler was a design student, half her age (she must have been nearly 50), when he came to work in her studio. As he helped with her collection they began a relationship, and he never left. Her eldest son Joe says that while everyone was initially suspicious of him, he has shown himself devoted to her and is good for her. For Westwood, her greatest compliment to Kronthaler is that living with him is as good as living on her own. He is also given equal say in her collections.
Vivienne has played an important part in my love for fashion, history of fashion, and the importance of fashion in our society. An exhibition of Vivienne Westwood’s 34 Years of Fashion, held in Canberra in 2004, was the first fashion exhibition I attended.
Her progression from punk fashion maker to Buffalo Girls to Pirates was somewhat rough but her later fashion showed a greater devotion to the medium. Her research, dedication, and understanding of design greatly developed into her bustles and pronounced busts in the Anglomania collections.
There are some great memorable moments through the film – Naomi Campbell tripping up on the catwalk in her teetering platforms, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista in the Anglomania period, and, of course, Vivienne’s OBE acceptance outfit which she wore sans panties.
The Malcolm McLaren period in 1970s London was covered well without excessively dwelling on it. He was her entree into the world of fashion, albeit accidentally through his record store and punk music beginnings.
The film progresses quickly through the punk and pirate eras, after which Westwood says she outgrew McLaren and decided to focus on fashion while he moved more into music. She was lucky to be successful in finding a sponsor in Giorgio Armani through her Italian CEO, but McLaren scuppered the deal and Westwood was forced to keep moving ahead independently.
The film is well put together, although Westwood is said to have fallen out with the director Lorna Tucker who she accused of downplaying her activism. While anti-fracking and saving the Arctic were shown to be her causes, the film didn’t show her passion for sustainable fashion.
Personally, I was relieved. It took an hour to get through the history of her fashion and relationships and I thought that the rest of the film would focus on her activism. It didn’t, although I thought it was made very clear she was serious about her causes and the film at no time really played it down.
Both Westwood’s sons participate in the documentary as does Kate Moss who says she could have become Westwood’s only lesbian lover after Westwood told her after a show that, although she wasn’t gay, she would do it with Moss.
In the film, when Westwood is awarded British Designer of the Year two years running, we are rooting for her, in part for her longevity in the industry but in the main for her constant position as a punk standing against the establishment.
It’s an engaging documentary, made by former model Tucker, peppered with a few laughs, and featuring a character truly larger than life. It’s easy to maintain interest in the film as Tucker ambles at a steady pace through Westwood’s life and career.