The Spirit of Punk: From Counterculture to Haute Couture

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The exhibit “Punk: Chaos to Couture” will be on from May 9th to August 14th at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It takes a look back in images and music on the influence that punk culture has had on the fashion industry.
To understand the fashion of today, sometimes you have to go backwards. Punk culture was born in the 70s in London and New York, a rebellion in the face of capitalism and mass consumption in a difficult social climate where youth envisioned a “no future” without any prospects. This innovative movement would find its clothing style in art and its weapons in music to express itself and oppose the dominant thinking of the day. The clothing had to be synonymous with originality, authenticity, and personalization all while being provocative and shocking. It had to react to a generally well-to-do society. Graffiti, provocative or obscene slogans, clothes that were ripped or torn in all the right places, chains and nails as decoration for jackets, omnipresent safety pins: this is but a non-exhaustive list of the richness of punk’s aesthetic codes that borrows from rock’n’roll wardrobes with a few iconic pieces like the leather biker jacket, bondage pants, or latex accessories and clothing.
From 1971 to 1980, the boutique of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, two classic punk style designers that we still know of today, could be found on 430 Kings Road in London. This is the inventor of the “mini-crini”, a skirt halfway between a tutu and a Victorian crinoline as well as “Rocking horse shoes”, a pair of wedge shoes who’s wooden heel went all the way to British Designer of the Year in 1990, 1991, and 2006. In 1976 she dressed up the Sex Pistols, the essential punk rock group of the late 70s, managed by her husband Malcolm and elected 4th best rock group in 2011 by readers of Rolling Stone, behind Green Day, The Clash, and The Ramones. Reinventing, diverting, inventing, and creating are the keywords in punk philosophy. The entire essence of punk fashion relies on the concept of “Do It Yourself” (DIY), where the idea is to deconstruct and reconstruct clothing according to one’s own convictions, one’s own vision of the proportions and structure of the garment. This constant tinkering is synonymous with a permanent quest for creativity and the refusal to conform to society.
The MET exhibit also puts clothing from the punk years from 1975 onwards next to recent and current Haute Couture and ready-to-wear creations to better highlight the influences of punk in contemporary design and aesthetics.The focal point here is the materials, the techniques, and the adornments associated with the rejection of conformism. This collection shows us that punk fashion, which by definition wasn’t meant to be adopted by a large number of people, succeeded in sustainably imposing itself as a recognized aesthetic largely utilized by a number of designers. From Karl Lagerfeld with his hole-ridden Chanel suit where proper ladies become rebellious dissidents from the jacket loaded with studs by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, or even Moschino’s evening dress that’s entirely made of garbage bags, a multitude of designers like Alexander McQueen, Rodarte, and Rei Kawakubo have integrated punk influence into their wardrobe for one or many seasons. “Punk: Chaos to Couture” is a multi-sensory retrospective brought to life by sounds and lights to understand and appreciate punk culture in the fashion world. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art
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