"Let me just talk so we can get it over with."
It's the first minute of the Vivienne Westwood documentary, aptly titled Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, and the tartan queen is already mad. Not in the emotional sense, of course, but in the brash (read: English), charmingly headstrong sense we've come to know her for. Most of her -isms either start in a "I like that" or end in a "I don't like that" (and sometimes, if something is particularly dreadful, carry an "at all" for emphasis). But Westwood is more than a personality. As the story goes with most of these in-depth looks at industry legends, her role in the fashion world is much bigger than celebrity.
Westwood's ability to inspire even the most nonbelievers of the power of fashion has served her well for decades. When she began selling her punk designs in her and impresario Malcom McLaren's store SEX on London's major King's Road, she revolutionised British fashion and what was considered "appropriate" for women. (A scene where Westwood is invited on a British talk show to preview her designs, and the audience laughs and mocks her, is just the type of reality check most revolutionary fashion designers needed to launch their careers.) Through her love of clothes and political activism, both of which she adjoins both in her designs equally, she is the only designer in the game whose title of "fashion designer and activist" is actually legit.
But as revealed in the Lorna Tucker-directed film, Westwood prefers the term "fashion anarchist." In addition to creating some of fashion's most recognisable looks of all-time (see: Carrie Bradshaw's wedding dress, Pharrell's hat, and those heels that even made Naomi Campbell take a tumble), she's passionate about climate change. For the past eight years, she's been producing her Ethical Fashion Initiative bags in collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Centre — a joint organisation of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation — which supports the work of women micro-producers of marginalised African communities.
There's much, much more to be learned from Westwood — and you'll be surprised to realise just how many trends (those material and immaterial) she started. In the clip below — one of our favourites from the documentary — the designer narrates her start in the fashion industry, including her relationship with McLaren. Like most great woman designers of our business, she outran him.