Directed by: Lorna Tucker
Produced by: Eleanor Emptage, Shirine Best, Nicole Stott, John Battsek
Edited by: Paul Carlin
Starring: Vivivenne Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler, Kate Moss.
Throughout her long career, avant garde fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood has been a giant safety pin digging into the side of the British establishment.
From the first little backroom shop in the King’s Road that she shared with Malcolm McLaren selling records (him) and clothing (her), Westwood claims to have invented punk, with McLaren managing (or perhaps mismanaging) the Sex Pistols and Westwood responsible for the punk aesthetic.
She has often described herself as a woman on a mission and, in the 1970s, the mission was to confront the establishment through sex. Pronouncing England as the home of the flasher, Westwood designed a line of rubber wear for the office to sell from their shop now flagrantly rebranded SEX in huge, hot pink letters.
Her designs from that time onwards have become no less confrontational, from the 1976 Destroy tee shirt calling out the establishment as fascists to the 2003 show where she sent her male models down the runway wearing fake breasts over their polo necks. Believing that clothes are deeply emotional, Westwood creates clothing, ‘to face the world in a spectacular way’, as with supermodel Carla Bruni’s 1994 appearance on a Paris catwalk in a scanty faux fur thong. At last, a fitting riposte to the 1936 surrealist Object, the fur-lined teacup.
Despite the sensation her designs create, Westwood takes a very practical approach to design. As one of her assistants observes of Vivienne and partner Andreas Kronthaler’s collaboration, ‘They work with their hands, they work on the body, they have a rapport with the body’. Westwood has been making her own clothes from an early age, and her working class background probably goes some way to explaining the campaign of guerrilla warfare she has been waging against the establishment. Far from hiding torn edges and safety pins, Westwood features them as symbols of insubordination. She wants her clothes to ‘tell a story’, one spiked with mischief and defiance.
But there is an even more personal impetus underlying both Westwood’s designs and her activism. When she was nine, Westwood was transfixed and horrified by a painting of the Crucifixion. It was a seminal moment. Since then, it has become her mission, ‘To stop people doing terrible things to each other’. Wanting to change the world, she joined a Greenpeace expedition to the Arctic Circle. The environmental devastation she witnessed there left her traumatised. Over time, her mission has become ever more focussed, homing in on the financial establishment as, ‘The rotten financial system,’ and, ‘A hydra that is destroying us’.
Even so, this Designer of the Year (twice) who performs cartwheels on the catwalk has been struggling with a conundrum common to many underground artists. As the work gains recognition, it is at the same time being subsumed into the very establishment it is agitating against.
If fashion or popular culture interest you in any way this documentary is a must-see, and for the rest of us it’s a fascinating insight into a fiercely original spirit.