photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is perhaps nobody more responsible for the visual aesthetics of PUNK ROCK than the late legendary ICONOCLASTIC BRITISH FASHION DESIGNER VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, who with her former partner MALCOLM MCLAREN helped initiate the notoriously CONFRONTATIONAL counterculture revolution in BRITAIN. but that known biography is not what makes the recent retrospective documentary WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST (FINISHED FILMS, 2018) such a COMPELLING artifact. it is what she was doing at the then-current cultural moment, taking on ARTISTIC and POLITICAL stands that made her life's creative work in FASHION such a TRANSCENDENT and INSPIRING narrative.
and what is she focused on at the time of this film: CLIMATE CHANGE. having visited the melting glaciers in the arctic via GREENPEACE, WESTWOOD is seen attempting to leverage her public profile and reputation as a FREE-THINKER to promote GREENER ENERGY ALTERNATIVES and better business practices. with the latter at front of mind, her business (note: film was shot pre-pandemic) for the first time has been witness to incredible growth on a global scale which means growing pains regarding less control and oversight relative to such an expanded operation. that such comes at a time when WESTWOOD is prominently voicing a more CONSCIOUS approach to objectively UNSUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY PRACTICES is the challenge of her late career. but her creative work has always served as an ALTERNATIVE to the predictable, so there is no doubt she'll figure it out.
i believe words like IDIOSYNCRATIC and ECCENTRIC have a negative connotation about them, so i will utilize words like SINGULAR and UNCONVENTIONAL to describe her ECLECTIC and ever EVOLVING aesthetic style which seemingly borrows from all aspects of history and geography. there is a moment in the film where WESTWOOD showcases her latest collection on a BRITISH daytime talk show only to be laughed at in scorn by the geriatric audience. its the perfect visual metaphor for why her work is such a VIBRANT expression of being BRITISH, fuck the boring middle-class bourgeois sensibilities regarding respectability. relatedly, one of the key declarations in the film by WESTWOOD is how PUNK ROCK was not a revolutionary movement but a temporary distraction that was soon commodified and appropriated into the corporate structure for ripe exploitation of the youth. having remained INDEPENDENT and SELF-OPERATED her whole career, there is an argument that WESTWOOD is more PUNK than the actual musicians that popularized the movement. just that insight alone into owning your own future and gaining the benefits from your own hard work outside of the fiefdom of corporate overlords feels in keeping with the stridently DIY aesthetic of 80s HARDCORE bands, not a fashion label.
its hard to watch WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST and not be INSPIRED to create and take real chances. most definitely a film worth watching irregardless of your interest in FASHION or PUNK ROCK. its a documentary about being a SELF-ACTUALIZED individual and wearing your freak flag no matter the consequences or public ridicule. those people will be forgotten. VIVIENNE WESTWOOD and her contributions to world culture, never mind the UNITED KINGDOM, will live on.
RIP VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
BOOK REVIEW | "ENGLAND'S DREAMING: ANARCHY, SEX PISTOLS, PUNK ROCK AND BEYOND" BY JON SAVAGE
photo by nacrowe
essentially this is the book on punk.
ENGLAND'S DREAMING (ST. MARTIN'S PRESS, 1991) by JON SAVAGE goes into the cultural and socio-political morass that was 1970s england, which birthed the whole scene in tandem with their american counterparts.
central to the whole story is the singular figure of enfant terrible MALCOLM MCLAREN who was essentially the precursor to what we would now deem an internet troll. his whole cause célèbre was coming up with interesting attention-grabbing press events to both stick it to the uppercrust of the british establishment and promote his businesses, including a boutique store called SEX that he sold garments and wares designed in consultation with his partner VIVIEN WESTWOOD.
so essentially the SEX PISTOLS were assembled to promote a business, which is a fact i love. they are as manufactured with intent to exploit a dormant market as the BACKSTREET BOYS, N'SYNC and NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK were decades later. its just a fact, i still love them and appreciate their artistic contributions to modern music. its just an interesting fact given the later 1980s HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK scenes that channeled this scene into their own local scenes with a heavy DO IT YOURSELF ethic. this scene was anything buy DIY given that most of the major players on both sides of the pond were on major labels, including THE CLASH (CBS), THE RAMONES (SIRE), PATTI SMITH (ARISTA), TELEVISION (ELEKTRA) and of course THE SEX PISTOLS (EMI / WARNER BROS / VIRGIN).
you can also see punk as a return to basic rock formula's of the 1950s as most of these bands initially started out retreading then 20+ year old CHUCK BERRY riffs, despite their claims to the contrary and supposed revolutionary posturing.
i think the reason later musicians, most notably KURT COBAIN who later sought out SAVAGE for interviews in the british press specifically because of this book, respect this book is due to its empathy for the subject matter without romanticization or worse, hagiography. SAVAGE largely comes off level-headed in his analysis of the movement, at times letting his subjects speak for themselves and complicating a very messy period with a very messy influence on modern music.
bottom line: this book is a must read for anyone interested in punk rock. read this first and then everything else.