If you've never heard of her, Vivienne Westwood is the 77-year-old British fashion designer and creator of the label that shares her name. More importantly, Westwood is known for being the original creator of punk fashion around the time the Sex Pistols crashed onto the British culture scene in the 1970s. The new documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, like Westwood's clothing, feels tangibly pieced together, jumping forward and backward in time with photographs, interviews, and footage from past and present.
We learn that Westwood wasn't always interested in becoming a designer, though she claims that she could have made a pair of shoes at the age of 3. Along the road to fame, she sold rock 'n' roll records, rebelled against social norms, and became a mother and environmental activist before making the unusual decision to start a completely independent fashion label and falling in love with another designer 10 years her senior.
The rough documenting style can be confusing and frustrating at times, especially because the film doesn't dive very deeply into its subjects. The world of punk and its origins are intriguing, but Westwood doesn't provide much more than brief glimpses of the Sex Pistols; seeing as this is Westwood's area of authority, you'd think the filmmakers would have spent more time there. We do get a clear picture of the person behind the label, along with some scandalous runway footage, yet this doc feels more like a summary than anything else. Compared to Frederich Tcheng's fascinating 2014 film Dior et Moi, which thoroughly immerses the audience into the alien world of high fashion, there is nothing particularly compelling about the story Westwood has to tell.
Sure, there's tension between Westwood and the people who work for her, and she struggles with maintaining the integrity of her brand while fighting for environmental rights, but these issues feel slapped on—nothing compared to the agony of restitching a whole dress overnight by hand.
+Punk fashion is cool and interesting
– Not enough depth to be memorable
Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
Directed by Lorna Tucker
With Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler and Kate Moss
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 83 min.