The opening lines of this documentary are very surprisingly ‘just let me talk and get it over with’. They are spoken by Dame Vivienne Westwood herself an iconic fashion genius who it turns out is also a mass of contradictions. Such as agreeing to give unlimited access to filmmaker and former model Lorna Tucker to make this profile on her, and then blatantly refusing to talk about key elements of her life like the Sex Pistols.
Born during WW2 into a blue-collar family in Tintwhistle a small village in Derbyshire, the eccentric Westwood has a vivid memory of her childhood during which aged 11 years old she was making her own clothes. It was about this time also that she was greatly disheartened by seeing a picture of the crucifixion for the first time, and she blamed her parents for never telling her what had happened to the Baby Jesus. She claims that she never trusted anyone ever again after that.
We soon realise that a statement like this is atypical of Westwood who has no filter when it comes to speaking her mind and telling the truth no matter how unflattering it is. With a few interviews with her spread over sometime and intermingled with archival footage, Tucker pieces together a picture of a woman who is determined to follow her own distinct path regardless of consequence. Yet at the same time, we get regular glimpses of a successful businesswoman who is also still wracked with doubt about her own abilities even now.
Tucker neatly deals with Westwood’s personal relationships too. First her marriage to Derek at a very early age and from which she got her name and her eldest son Ben. It was followed by her very public relationship with Malcolm McClaren with whom she created the punk movement and also had her second son Joe. With Westwood then starting to focus on clothes whilst McClaren concentrated on his music with bands like the Sex Pistols, she eventually realised that she had got intellectually bored with him, and they parted with more than a little rancour on his part.
The failure of this relationship would come to haunt her in years to come when her business manager struck a much-needed investment deal from Giorgio Armani’s partner, only for it to be scuppered by McClaren who claimed that legally he still controlled part of Westwood’s business.
At that stage in the 1980’s Westwood was so broke that for a time she couldn’t even afford to pay the electricity bill in her store, so they lit the place just with candles.
Three remarkable things about this time in her life. Most importantly no matter how strapped she was for cash, Westwood ever compromised on the design of her avant-garde clothes. Secondly, she still genuinely cannot pinpoint the moment when she also became a commercial success as well as a critical one. Finally needing cash, she took a teaching job in Austria, and there as a student in her class was her future husband Andreas Kronthaler.
Kronthaler, 11 year’s Westwood’s junior, moved to London to work as a design intern for Westwood and was then allowed to sleep under the cutting table at night. Now, married to her for 26 years, he is the Artistic Director of the Company and Westwood very generously credits him with designing the collections with her …..and also on his own.
In the film, it is at first easy to share everyone else’s initial reluctance not to accept Kronthaler with the same enthusiasm as Westwood did particularly as he has a very bossy manner. However, as he and Joe, Westwood’s son talk to the camera it soon becomes obvious not only of Kronthaler’s sincerity but the crucial role he plays in every aspect of Westwood’s life.
Westwood herself is such an enigma. Now totally committed to issues regarding climate change, yet as one of her employees pointed out, her greatest contribution to sustainability would be by closing her company down. It is not something she will seriously consider with some 400 employees worldwide depending on her for their income. On the other hand, she does regret allowing the business to grow to a size where she can no longer control every minute detail as she used to do. To hear an entrepreneur say they are only interested in selling quality and not quantity is rare, but then so is Westwood.
As her CEO proudly points out Westwood’s company is still 100% independent unlike nearly all the other leading fashion designers today. And what the extraordinary wonderful array of clothes she has created over the years point out, is that she is totally unlike any other fashion designer too.
Westwood is nothing short of a genius, and one that we can both love and respect, and this excellent affectionate profile on this great Englishwoman was long overdue.