Westwood: Punk, Activist, Icon is a documentary following renowned British designer Vivienne Westwood over the course of three years. With both talking head interviews, behind the scenes fashion shows and the history of the Westwood brand, Westwood is an interesting watch, but never quite peaks.
The talking head aspect of the documentary works extremely well. With Westwood squirming in her chair complaining that her life is so boring and who wants to hear about it, to her children talking about her struggle to keep a shop open to her husband talking about how much he loves her. It brings you closer to the people on the screen and their personalities and the relationships behind the designer brand. The stand out is of course Westwood, she stops the interview at one point to talk about how much she likes her dress, she constantly complains and swears and its charming, funny and down to earth.
There is an abundance of archival footage, from fashion shows and photographs from behind the scenes. It’s done really well and doesn’t feel forced. You see the development of Westwood’s design aesthetic throughout the years and how ground breaking it was for the time. This combined with footage of clothes Westwood created being brought out from museum store rooms and handled with white gloves by a woman who has a PhD in clothing design and Westwood’s blasé attitude it brings the film together in a unique and exciting way.
The downside to the film is that there isn’t really a plot. The documentary follows Westwood around for a few years, but there isn’t a specific show she’s aiming for, or the opening of a new shop. These moments in the film are hasty and not focused on. The amazingly interesting aspects of Westwood’s life, such as her position at the forefront of the Punk movement, or the immense struggle she went through to become respected and appreciated in the British fashion movement are minor points as Westwood herself thinks they don’t matter and doesn’t want to talk about them. There isn’t really an arc to the film, you don’t really learn anything about the Westwood empire and how they became so huge, or how they have influenced modern fashion. Even the modern reception of Westwood takes maybe 5 minutes of screen time as they look at her environmental activism, something which Westwood states is her prime motivation now.
Another downside is Westwood’s narration. She thinks her life is boring so she doesn’t really talk about some things that are really interesting. Points such as her involvement in the creation of the Punk icon band The Sex Pistols are briefly touched upon, and her disastrous relationship with Malcolm McLaren is told primarily through her sons and there are big gaps in her description of events. This creates a sort of uneven feeling, instead of having a complete and full picture, you’re getting only a glimpse.
Despite this, it’s an interesting watch. You can see the nuts and bolts behind the Westwood fashion brand as a focus is on how Westwood and her husband work together to create the clothes, as well as the overarching theme of rags-to-riches. The standouts in the film are the people, from Andreas (the husband) to the money hungry CEO, to fashion designers and models who worked for the brand, but the real icing on the cake is Westwood. She shines in her own film, with her over-it-attitude and her desire to make clothes that she likes, Westwood, Punk, Icon, Activist is one to watch if you admire her and her work.