Vivienne Westwood is an interviewer’s dream – and not just because she’s Vivienne Westwood. Barely a minute into our quickfire Q&A at Regent Street Cinema, London, and the iconic designer/actual inventor of punk fashion has already slagged off the Gallaghers, name-dropped Courtney Love and declared Billie Eilish the future of pop music. We can’t get a word in edgeways.
But we’re not here for a state-of-the-chart address, even if it is excellent. We’re here because it’s the premiere of Wake Up Punk, a new documentary directed by Nigel Askew that features brand new interviews with Westwood, her family and many of the old anarchist lot. Upset by the “commodification” of their anti-capitalist movement, each talking head argues the country’s ripe for a bit of social upheaval. It all culminates in the burning of an estimated £5million worth of punk memorabilia by Joseph Corré, Westwood’s son with the late Malcolm McClaren. Corré caught a lot of heat for the stunt back in 2016 – he was criticised for not selling it for charity – and the doc allows him to make his case in full. Grand statements obviously run in the family…
Hi Vivienne, when was the last time you were interviewed by NME?
“Oh God knows, perhaps never.”
Surely not, what about…
“In fact I didn’t even know it was still going. I don’t read any of these things.”
Really? Do you…
“Can I just say, I’ve never been interested in pop music since the Sex Pistols. I don’t think anything came anywhere near it. I mean talk about people like Oasis. I heard that in a taxi once and thought: ‘Who is that? My God is that it?’ Terrible.”
Have you ever met Noel or Liam?
Would you like to?
“No. It’s all derivative, nothing left to say.”
Is there anyone modern you do like?
“I’m going to be talking at Billie Eilish’s [upcoming six-day London climate event], which is really great. From what I know of her, I think she’s great. I just heard a bit of her voice and it sounds terrific. Oh and I was doing a photoshoot yesterday with Courtney Love. I’d never listened to her sing before but my husband [designer] Andreas [Kronthaler] said, ‘She’s really good that woman, really great’, so I had a listen too.”
What was the shoot for?
“Fashion, my latest collection. Anyway, off we go…”
Yes, let’s talk about your new film Wake Up Punk – do you think the burning of all that memorabilia had the impact you and your son Joseph Corré hoped it would?
“I think that’s totally unimportant – and so does Joe. It’s neither here nor there. He wanted to make a film about nobody understanding what’s going on in the world when we’re all going to die from climate change. And then the big point is ‘Oh you’ve burned all those clothes…”
It was quite a statement, no?
“I don’t even like fashion. Well, sometimes I do. The thing about punk was that it was an amazing look. It was probably the most glamorous fashion that’s ever existed and I think that’s what we have to really remember. It was just outrageously brilliant and that’s that… and I did that, with Malcolm [McLaren], but me. I wanted to tell you.”
At this point Vivienne pauses to deal with a persistent cough, which she drowns in a large glass of red wine – and then some water.
“Sorry, I haven’t coughed all day. Anyway…”
In Wake Up Punk you claim John Lydon’s lost his mojo in recent years – why is that?
“I think John Lydon was a sensation. I think he was so convinced of himself and his ideals – and I believed in him. He latched onto the idea that the people who run the world and caused the Vietnam War were still the same people in charge – and that’s why we talked about anarchy. It became a whole thing about youth against age. The way that song ‘Anarchy In The UK’ begins, it’s absolutely bloodcurdling and I’ve never heard anything like it since.”
So what went wrong?
“Once the Sex Pistols folded, he didn’t have any more ideas. We had something to talk about and you don’t just get ideas, they don’t fall from Heaven. You have to read, you have to try and understand. You have to think for yourself. And you have to work it all out. You get out what you put in and that’s what people don’t understand today. They think they can just be a rebel. Well you can’t, you see, and that’s what went wrong I think.”
‘Wake Up Punk’ is available to stream online now