The city of New York roared a sartorial rebel yell last night with the opening of Punk: Chaos to Couture. The legendary Met Gala thrown by the Metropolitan Museum of Art brings the most elite of the fashion crowd up the red carpeted steps to see the exhibit.
The punk movement was born in the mid 1970's both in New York at clubs like CBGB's and in London with Malcolm McLaren and then girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood. The first section of the exhibit had reproductions of the gritty CBGB bathroom (I’m sure the socialites and Anna Wintour can relate to this) and simulation of iconic punk fashion boutique Seditionaries’ from Great Britain. Degraded t-shirts with subversive messages, bondage inspired outfits held together with safety pins were in full display from Westwood and McLaren .
Speaking of safety pins, it’s hard to imagine punk fashion without the metal hardware. If you haven’t overdosed on the volume of spikes in the retail scene the past two years, prepare for another onslaught. Pins, studs, spikes, grommets, staples and logo embossed metallic trims were showcased on the designs of Balenciaga, Gianni Versace, Victor & Rolf, Givenchy, Moschino and Dolce & Gabbana.
Doesn’t sound very anarchistic? This exhibition is the ultimate example of street style influencing haute couture. There is a room of graffiti influenced fashion from the likes of Stephen Sprouse to Ann Demeulemeester. The Alexander McQueen dress that was famously spray painted with robotic air nozzle guns on the runway was on display as well.
There was always the basic culture of DIY and artistic expression in punk fashion. There was an interesting gallery, “Bricolage” that focused on style that was created from found objects, fashion from garbage from designers like Martin Margiela, John Galliano and Prada. While scholars referenced this as punks’ “violent” tendencies in the cutting up of materials, I saw this as contemporary and eco-friendly. The dresses made from garbage bags, broken dishes and postage fashion is very “green”. To me, I interpreted this as a message against mass consumption.
The last gallery was “Destroy”. Imagine it being screamed from the Nick Knight-made films all over the show featuring Sid Vicious. I thought it would show lots of fashion and prestige labels being torn down from social upheaval throughout the decades. Nope, designers like Balmain, Chanel and Yohji Yamamoto were displayed showing outfits with different techniques of distressed fabrics or deliberate sabotage in embellished holes.
“Destroying” incredibly expensive clothing with intent with the idea that it will appeal to the young market is not very punk to me. The youth culture that started the movement was poor and was protesting the elite establishment. However, the designers curated for this show are all incredibly successful, prestigious global brands that the 99% of the Occupy Wall Street movement cannot afford. This also reflects the entire guest list attending the evening’s gala.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved this exhibit and these are all designers that I grew up idolizing. In the spirit of the subject though, I would have liked to see representation from modern unknown fashion labels or designers who truly DID do business in a way that went against the grain since McLaren and Westwood.
The couture “punk” references the themes of the 70’s and 80’s aesthetic but doesn’t ask what today’s “punk” is? Would that be a coat made of Guy Fawkes masks? Would it be a sculpted dress made of melted water bottles? Is it just a naked person wearing the ashes of their pink slips? What is YOUR idea of punk?
The exhibit runs until August 14th, 2013.
(All photos by Mariana Leung)