Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
by director Lorna Tucker
Around 10 years ago I was photographing a British band when they received a call from Josh Homme of the Queens of the Stone Age. Josh recounted to the band how Vivienne Westwood had cornered him at a party and told him that she had written a rap song about the environment. He had agreed on the spot to help record it but was reaching out to this particular band to help him out as he was overseas on tour. Of course I jumped at the chance to go along and film the whole thing, who wouldn’t?
I didn’t know too much about Vivienne prior to filming the rap video. I knew she was a celebrated fashion designer and I knew she was turning up in the British press more frequently as a result of her activism. I was keen to learn more about her causes but I was even more intrigued by her as a person and the fact that she was a strong, older woman still totally involved in running her own successful independent company. She was only writing rap songs in her spare time!
I had a blast during the filming and over the following years we kept in touch due to a mutual interest in a story about Native American women that we had both been following. We would meet for a cup of tea and discuss their story on which I went on to make my very first feature documentary. The more I got to know Vivienne the more I realized how truly inspiring a women she is. I wanted to tell her incredible story from the very beginning as an instigator of the punk movement with her then partner Malcolm McLaren, being treated as an underdog by the fashion industry, overcoming years of hardship to eventually become one of the most original and innovative fashion designers as well as turning her label into a world famous brand. She’s a survivor, an artist, a designer and a great business woman and now to add to all the acclaim she is also a Dame of the British Empire!
The film Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist was conceived in 2014, after Vivienne and I collaborated on a short film together as well as a Dazed And Confused magazine online take over. I closely observed her working process including all the highs and lows, as well as witnessing her very personal struggle to sort out her company which is one of the only fashion labels which is still independently owned. I also followed her as she tirelessly campaigned to make a difference in the world particularly concerning fracking and the environment.
Vivienne grew up in northern post-war Britain at a time when money was scarce. She moved to London as a teenager to attend art school where as a young northern girl she suffered terrible classism. This led her to making the decision to drop out and find her own path in life. At a time when there is disillusionment amongst artists as well as the younger generation and funding is being cut for the arts and the education system which supports and creates the diverse, artistic culture that we have in the U.K., I felt her story could inspire and encourage a new generation of creatives.
What is particularly striking about Vivienne is how she is always prepared to stand up and stand out—this is reflected in both her fashion designs and her activism. Whether she’s in her showroom working late into the night or marching on Westminster for climate justice, she employs the same uncompromising passion and determination. She has a palpable rebellious streak and a true anti-establishment ethos, which underpins all she does and is immediately infectious!
Vivienne’s interests, ideas and principles have always been slightly out of step with public expectations of a typical fashion icon and it was clear to me from the start that Westwood could therefore never be a typical fashion documentary. Instead I wanted to focus more on Vivienne as a character, exploring her origins, her activism and her revolutionary cultural impact as one of the true originators of the last four decades. She has led an extraordinary life, punctuated by some of the greatest cultural shifts in recent history.
For me it was a truly inspiring experience, not only documenting Vivienne’s incredible story but also developing my absolute love of film making—both of which kept me going when at times the process was very challenging. I learnt a great deal and am now ready to take on again!
I hope you enjoy the film as much as I enjoyed making it.