“The first time I met her and she walked into this recording studio, six inch high heels, her red hair down, no plastic surgery and I just went she’s the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen.”
For Tucker, a teenage runaway and drug addict, Westwood emerged as not just an idol and inspiration and role model for self-love and confidence but almost a surrogate mother.
“Me and Vivienne built a friendship, she taught me more than anyone’s ever taught me.
“I left school when I was very young, I had lots of learning difficulties, I was a drug addict from 12 until several years ago, she really looked after me and tried to teach me.
“We had a real, I felt, friendship and I think that’s why I was able to film her in places no-one else has filmed her and also get that intimacy.”
Intimate is an understatement. One of the early scenes is of the 77-year old, almost unrecognisable, waking up and getting out of bed, looking, if not frail, certainly vulnerable.
Westwood is frequently shown bare-faced, hair unkempt, but never ugly.
Rather, the Dame’s grandeur is present in every shot.But vintage Westwood is also on display. Some of the film’s best scenes show her throwing temper tantrums at staff about the size of a puny hem and the quality of her latest season, moments from its debut on the runway.
“F–k them, they’re just disgusting … what’s with this tiny hem?” Westwood is seen berating one of her designers.
“Next time you make a judgment don’t make a judgment … I don’t know if I want to show any of this shit and I don’t know what the f–k this is,” Westwood says, in one particularly memorable tantrum.
At the heart of Westwood’s complaints about Tucker’s film is that it is not enough about her activism.
From capitalism, free-market monopolies, consumption (the “enemy of culture”), Julian Assange, fracking and plastic, Westwood, estimated to be worth £50 million ($93 million), has latched onto myriad left-wing causes in recent years even when her personal brand has collided with her company’s commercial interests, as highlighted by Tucker.
“I was trying to sum it up in the scene where she’s in her bedroom and she’s talking about how she’s trying to fix her company and that Carlo [D’Amario, company CEO] was pushing out a lot of rubbish and then she goes ‘all these plastic shoes, I’m not making any money off it’.
“And I was like ‘that’s a really interesting to say, that you’re angry that your manager’s making money and you’re not seeing any of it and you’re anti-plastic and you’re trying to get plastics out of the company so you see things like that’.
“And also the fashion industry’s one of the most destructive industries in the world, whatever way around it you go it’s going to be destructive and to bully other people, or constantly be pointing the finger at other people for damaging the planet.”
Contradictions or a hypocrite? “A bit of both I think,” Tucker says. “I’m a firm believer that activism is a way of life and it’s what you do,” she says later.
Westwood is not oblivious to the tension between political Vivienne and her role as empress of her fashion empire.
She expresses concerns about the company expanding too fast and our of her control, although that seems to be from an editorial rather than ecological complaint. But a chunk of time is spent exploring Westwood’s desire to create less but better. Her latest campaign is an attempt to justify her several thousand dollar price tags and urges her customers to buy her clothes but less of them (and less of other brands).
Westwood presumably envisioned a film in the style of her lectures-to-camera that frequent her Instagram but Tucker says she never agreed or negotiated access based on producing a visual press release but rather a portrait of the woman, who remains her greatest inspiration.
She says even when it came to the activism, it was a challenge.
“For example, we went to the Arctic to see the destruction and she would tell everyone that would listen that it was the most boring thing she ever did and it was just a load of brown rock.
“And I was like ‘Yes, but Vivienne it’s brown rock because the ice has melted because of the global warming so instead of just talking about it, we went with you to see it but you found it boring’.”
From Tucker’s point of view, her film reveals the inner punk and activist Westwood has always been, since her original fetish-wear designs, to the designer who established herself as reworking English classics with French couture with outlandish, theatrical results.
As the documentary shows, Westwood’s genius was initially mocked by the fashion elite and literally laughed at on television.
Undaunted, she persevered, going on to cement herself as one of Britain’s premier designers, with Scottish tartan her signature fabric.
“The film was about what gave birth to this woman,” Tucker says.
“What I fell in love with, was realising how hard it actually was, in the face of public humiliation, abusive relationships, absolute poverty, to keep going and have that drive to do something that you love and you see her as an activist through every stage of her life.
“I didn’t want to say ‘oh this woman was once a punk’, I wanted you to go on that journey and show that she’s still a punk today and was when she was five-years-old.”
It’s evident this is where the pair diverge on what they class as “activism”. The opening scene provides an insight. Sitting regally in a velvet armchair, throne-like, at the exclusive private members Groucho club in London’s Soho, Westwood looks every inch the dame.
As Tucker probes her life story, an exasperated Westwood moans about having to go over the boring parts of her life. Westwood cannot see the point and would much rather be delivering one of her characteristic moral sermons.
“I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who was truly inspired by one of her talks,” Tucker says.
“She wants to inspire a generation, she wants to inspire them to get up and do something and make a difference with their lives and the planet they live in.
“And I’m one of those people who comes from a council estate, got into gangs, got into drugs. I met her and she inspired me.
“She made me want to dress to make me feel good about myself, she made me want to do my hair in the mornings to make myself feel good, not for what other people thought about me.
“She inspired me to learn about what’s going on in the world and try and make a difference and that has changed everything for me and given me my career that now drives me. So I know what it takes to be inspired.
“So, for me, when I was being told ‘no this is what I’m going to do and that’s going to inspire people’ I didn’t quite agree with that.”
While Tucker says she “never wanted to make a film that upset her,” Westwood’s dislike of it was not unexpected.
“And I remember the first time I showed it to Vivienne, she said straight away, ‘there’s not enough activism in there’.”
Westwood and Tucker have gone from spending three years together to not speaking since the film’s premiere.
But six months on Tucker has no regrets and is resolute that the film she made was the honest truth and flattering.
“Everyone has said that. The people that know her have said that’s the most truthful and honest portrait I’ve seen of her.
“When you think of how much I filmed at an intimate level, if I had wanted to make more of an audience or make more of an impact I could have portrayed a very unflattering portrait and that’s not meant in an aggressive threatening way at all but it would be easy to edit around things to make them not look positive.
“It’s really hard being honest but trying to also not make people look back but celebrate them but with that transparency and that truthfulness.”
Tucker is hopeful that with the passage of time she and Westwood might rekindle their friendship but she will wait for the designer to reach out first. “I’m not going to chase something that obviously wasn’t real.”
Despite being rejected by her idol, Tucker says her admiration for Westwood is unchanged, although checked by hindsight.
“She’s inspired me more than anyone I’ve worked with, so I’ll always love her.”
Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist opens on October 18.
Latika Bourke is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age based in London. She has previously worked for Fairfax Media, the ABC and 2UE in Canberra. Latika won the Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2010.