TORONTO – She may be the queen of modern punk fashion, but designer Vivienne Westwood has a definite soft spot for the classics, particularly when it comes to her affinity for art and culture.
The former schoolteacher says she always had a leaning towards intellectual things, starting in childhood as an early reader. But growing up in the country some 20 kilometres outside of Manchester, Westwood says she felt she lived in a part of the world that was out of touch with culture.
“I didn’t know anything about painting, didn’t know anything about classical music or whatever,” recalled Westwood in a recent phone interview. “But when I moved to London, there were wonderful opportunities, all the galleries.”
It’s no surprise gallery visits are featured prominently in the British fashion legend’s Fashion Television documentary “Vivienne Westwood’s London,” which premieres Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on CTV, with an encore presentation Sunday at noon ET.
The 69-year-old displays an almost-childlike enthusiasm and exuberance as she peers from behind her cream-coloured frames observing and commenting on French paintings in the Wallace Collection and works from Manet, Modigliani and Renoir at the Courtauld Gallery.
Viewers also get a glimpse at how the designer draws inspiration as she discusses plans to incorporate an element of a beloved painting into her upcoming knitwear line.
“Most fashion editors, for example, they’re really interested in anything that’s from the ’60s, and if they’re a bit younger, they’re interested in anything to do with punk. They think the world of fashion began when they were born,” she said from London in her delicate English lilt.
“All my ideas come from the past, (but) you never repeat something. You just re-present things in such a way that’s quite original when you do do it.”
The historic capital city has more than its share of iconic landmarks. But Westwood, who refers to London in the film as “one of the great cultural capitals of the world,” eschews the more familiar sites. Instead, she offer viewers an intimate glimpse of neighbourhoods, places and people she feels help define the city and its culture.
Westwood, who is an outspoken activist on human rights and climate change, is shown travelling either on foot or bicycle to various points of interest.
Her stops include a visit to the Globe Theatre, the reconstruction of the open-air playhouse where Shakespeare’s works were staged.
She checks out Hampton Court, a residence of Henry VIII and home to the oldest surviving hedge maze in the world. Westwood also visits the famed Electric Avenue in Brixton and watches a rehearsal of the London Symphony Orchestra.
The tour includes a touch of the macabre as she helps look for the graves of Shakespearean actors and retraces the footsteps of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel.
The documentary gets personal as Westwood visits her favourite restaurant and markets where she buys food.
Viewers get to see her at the World’s End shop in Chelsea where her rise to fame began. Westwood and her former partner, the late Malcolm McLaren, a punk pioneer and ex-manager of the Sex Pistols, helped usher in and define a new era of fashion with punk in ’70s.
With her signature orange-hued, flowing mane and avant-garde fashion style, Westwood herself has become a recognizable and beloved figure both in the U.K. and the fashion world at large.
As she checks out various sites in the film, she is frequently stopped by fans of all ages wanting to snap a photo or greet her.
Westwood speaks in the documentary about wanting to encourage a love of art in people, which she says helps them to understand the world they live in. She also laments what she feels is a lack of culture in the current landscape.
“We need art lovers,” she said. “You don’t have to be running around trying to find the latest thing. In fact, there isn’t any latest thing at the moment. But we do need you to develop your powers of discrimination so that you start to understand the world you live in.
“We need to know the past,” she added.
“History can be a sort of supplement at looking at the vision of human beings through the ages, but the greatest way to understand anything is through art. That’s when you really get an outlook that’s true.”
“Vivienne Westwood’s London” will re-air at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday on E! and Feb. 1 on FashionTelevisionChannel.