At the start of the documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood begs off discussing any part of her life on camera. The story has been told many times over, by her and the people who have come in and out of her life. Why go over it all again?
That scene is the perfect encapsulation of Westwood’s career: Throughout her 40-plus years making startling, stylish clothing from her home base of London, she’s continually looked ahead, not behind, predicting trends and seeking inspiration.
By upending the usual way of telling that story, director Lorna Tucker does an impressive job capturing the spirit of Westwood and her work. Tucker saves the parade of celebrity endorsers, like model Kate Moss and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, for the movie’s closing moments, and spends the rest of the time weaving through the highlights of Westwood’s glitzy yet gritty life.
But even then, Tucker doesn’t focus on the things you’d expect. Her longtime partner, Malcolm McLaren, is rightfully kept in the background, and the Sex Pistols, whom McLaren managed and who hung out at her shop, are quickly dismissed. Instead, we get a pointed view into the difficulties Westwood faced in gaining acceptance in her home country and how her persistence and vision won out in the end. It’s damn inspiring.
Of the three descriptors in the film’s title, the one that gets the least amount of attention is Westwood’s work as an activist—specifically, in the fight against climate change and her vocal support of smaller political parties in England. Tucker’s focus may be on the art of Westwood’s designs, but if her activism is an important enough attribute to warrant inclusion in the name of this otherwise fantastic documentary, it feels wrong to minimize it.