A leading tastemaker with more than 100 stand-alone boutiques in some the world's toniest fashion districts, Vivienne Westwood and her women's wear are nothing short of sublime.

The British designer's often over-the-top funky duds feature to-die-for dresses, midi-skirts, and wide-legged pants routinely jazzed up with audacious plaids and funky geometric prints. These are must-haves many of us can't afford, yet we still drool over them anyway. Westwood created the look of '70s British rebellion. The Sex Pistols wouldn't have looked the same without her.

Those who are hazy about Westwood's cheeky, rooted-in-punk historical impact on fashion certainly recognize her as the modern designer whose nuptial confection upped the fashion ante of Carrie Bradshaw's failed wedding attempt in the first Sex and the City movie. Remember the bird? Yep, she wore it with a Westwood.

Director Lorna Tucker attempts to give us the skinny on what makes the spiky-haired designer tick.

Tucker, a homeless addict-turned-model-turned-filmmaker, understands the value of Westwood's struggle. Other than a few quick scenes of Paris Fashion Week shows and awards ceremonies, Westwood is very low on glitz and glam.

Much like other documentaries that have tried to shine a knowing light on some of the industry's well-known enigmas — think Richard Press' 2010 film on New York Times Street photographer Bill Cunningham: New York, or Kate Novack's just-released The Gospel According to André that tells the life story of Vogue's former editor-at-large André Leon Talley — it's clear that the life of those in the fashion industry ain't no crystal stair.

But unlike with Cunningham's and Talley's stories, I wasn't left feeling sorry for Westwood because she was allowed to live up to the fullest expression of her personality. Westwood, a divorced mom of two boys, who started her career as a rebel, is a woman to be revered.

A young woman who grew up to become a teacher in working class England, Westwood left her first husband, Derek Westwood in the mid 1960s after she realized she wanted to be more than just a housewife. After repeated figurative kicks in the teeth by Sex Pistols Svengali and longtime partner Malcolm McLaren, she always went back to the drawing board.

There she worked and tried again until she successfully reinvented herself, building a killer brand — that remains independent to this day — on her own potty-mouthed terms. And that was all despite hate from the British press who literally laughed in her face.

It's amazing to watch.

Westwood's relationship with longtime partner in life and business Andreas Kronthaler, 11 years her junior, is an example of one of the many aspects of Westwood's life that she lives on her own terms. The movie, much to my dismay, spends a lot of time explaining the integrity of their relationship and it's Kronthaler who does most of the talking.

The movie succeeds in how it transitions from scene to scene. There is one scene where a shy Westwood alludes to the fact that the pieces she designed for the Sex Pistols weren't particularly important. Tucker blasts that myth wide open by then speaking to a curator at the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum, where many of Westwood's pieces are on display, including a T-shirt Westwood designed for the Pistols that spoke to the rebelliousness of the era as well as the early days of androgynous fashion.

In the end, Westwood was reflective. She admitted that her punk-era days designed to fight the establishment were simply a distraction that fueled its power. This is where I thought Tucker could do more. Because while I learned a lot about Westwood, it just didn't feel like enough.


Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

  • Directed by Lorna Tucker. With Vivienne Westwood. Distributed by Greenwich Entertainment.
  • Running time: 1 hour, 20 mins.
  • Parents guide: Not rated
  • Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse Cinema