Agents of Anarchy

::photo_caption::Punk initiator Johnny Rotten (second from left) with The Sex Pistols, 1976::/photo_caption::
::photo_credits::Getty Images::/photo_credits::

Look forward in anger – punk fashion is back with a vengeance for Fall 2013. But is the new mold too mainstream?

By Claire Carruthers
Jul 04, 2013

In mid-Seventies London, with garbage strikes in full swing, bright pink and green trash bags fill the streets. A young John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon of The Sex Pistols dumps the garbage out of one of the pink bags, cuts a hole for his head and arms, and wears it belted as a dress. Over 30 years later, British designer Gareth Pugh presents floor-sweeping gowns, carefully crafted out of black trash bags purchased from the Dalston one-pound shop near his studio in London.

Lydon’s motivation may have been political, and Pugh’s creative (the designer has never bowed down to commerciality), but what both have in common is a sense of rebellion; presenting something as cheap as a trash bag on the Fall 2013 Paris Fashion Week stage – and inside one of the city’s finest hotels, the Hôtel Saloman de Rothschild – takes balls.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current show Punk: Chaos to Couture and its accompanying book, attempt to explore the synergies between punk’s Seventies counter-cultural origins and its subsequent and continued influence on the fashion industry. Designs by early punk supporters Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes sit alongside the work of current designers like Moschino, Versace, Junya Watanabe and Christopher Kane who have channeled punk’s signature aesthetics – safety pins, tartan, ripped, torn and deconstructed fabrics – in recent collections.

Look to the Fall 2013 catwalks and it’s punk’s f**k-off attitude that prevails, in Givenchy’s mismatched recycled plaids and leathers, Clements Ribeiro’s butch-y black kilt-buckled coats and Holly Fulton’s boyish suits and insignia badges.

But those who were present and active in punk’s inception are giving an 'up yours' to this contemporary ratification of the chaotic artistic movement as an on-trend style: the sight of super-(and super polished)models Gisele Bundchen and Anja Rubik in spliced chainmail Anthony Vaccarello mini dresses or the Twittering tattooed Miley Cyrus in a Marc Jacobs fishnet body-stocking complete with platinum spiked crop at Punk’s red carpet opening, won’t do much to court the critics, either.

“It came from kids on the street, doing it yourself,” Lydon writes in the exhibition’s accompanying book. “The trouble is that punk got co-opted, and distorted by the media. People find it hard to get away from the clichés, from the popularized Eighties version of punk, and it became a stereotype.”

Dig too deep and fashion’s latest revival misses the point entirely: Carefully placed safety pins on a designer dress and goth-y make-up does little to echo punk’s initial meaning. But viewed simply as an acknowledgement, a light-hearted celebration of a movement that spawned a decade of cool fashion (and even cooler music) and it seems silly to grumble. After all, seasons are short-lived and as quickly as darkness descended for Fall, light will no doubt flood the Spring 2014 catwalks.

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