• Vivienne Westwwod and McLaren made Punk fashionable.
  • Vivienne Westwood´s original Sex Punk Shop in London.
  • John Lydon and his maker, Malcolm McLaren,founder of the Punk Rock band Sex Pistols.
  •  Paul Simonon, crucial member of Rock band The Clash.
Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
Vivienne Westwood's original Sex shop on King's Road in Chelsea, London.
John Lydon and his maker, Malcolm McLaren, manager and creator of the Sex Pistols.
Paul Simonon, crucial member of The Clash, and sometimes model- another accidental link to the fashion world.

    MUSIC AS FASHION: HOW PUNK ROCK CHANGED THE GAME

    27 April 2017

    By Hillary Sproul

    A friend of mine wears a jacket modeled after Richard Hell. It's a long, black trench with the words "FUCK OFF" hand-drawn and childlike in white fabric marker. She cites Hell as- not only her idol- but as her definite ideal romantic partner. Another friend mused over her last shift hosting at a restaurant: "The owner came in, looked me up and down and said, 'You're just the right amount of punk rock for this place. I love it.'" It hadn't been her intent to come off this way, but she revealed. When I mentioned this to my roommate, she said, "Funny, I had just been watching videos of Sid and Nancy all morning". I asked why. She responded, "Well, didn't you hear about the Met?"

    This year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute spring exhibit is "Punk: Chaos to Couture", a look at punk clothing and its influence on the fashion world. The exhibit will run from May 7 to August 14 as an ode to the Clash's Mick Jones and his assertion that real punk rock only existed during the first 100 days after its birth. Everything beyond that was reinterpretation. Essentially, fashion itself.

    This upcoming exhibition on what the fashion world regards as "punk rock" has everybody pondering what's been pondered many times before. The influence of punk music on fashion and the social stratosphere surrounding. Fashion functions as a resource in which the individual can draw upon inspiration and utilize it as a daily expression of self. For that inspiration to be something which hinges on a philosophy expressing utter rebellion and supposed non-conformity presents a conundrum to anyone analyzing manner of dress as a matter of fashion. Fashion itself inevitably conforms. In many respects, fashion is a conformity machine. And to take punk rock- the antithesis of conformity- and turn it inside out? Well, that was fashion's biggest and most fruitful challenge. The MET's decision to focus on this component of the fashion industry is fitting. For, if nothing else, it was punk rock which was the final nail in a coffin containing everything which once was free and pure and is now available at Macy's.

    The classic (and endlessly retold) story of Malcolm McLaren and his invention, The Sex Pistols, is the perfect example of fashion-bent commerce. Selling music as if the music itself were a garment to be worn, McLaren did what many had done before him. He intertwined the manufacture of clothing and the cultivation of style with what was going on culturally. Except this time, he created the culture himself. Inspired by a trip to New York, he took the overtones of music he heard happening at CBGBs (Johnny Thunders, Television, etc.), took a cue from Richard Hell and his perfect coif (safety pin, tattered T-shirt, etc.) and brought it back to London, merging his findings with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood's King's Road, Chelsea fashion boutique, Sex.

    The results changed lives. In 1975, he set up shop literally and figuratively on the fringes of what would become London's punk rock era. He chose his players perfectly and assembled a band as if styling a photo shoot. Then, he his Frankenstein project loose on stage and waited to see what hit. It worked. The same foundations of punk- abandonment of pretense, a decided ignorance of musical composition, “no-musical-experience-necessary”- were the same foundations of style. The two aligned perfectly and the Sex Pistols became fashion's first punk band. The people who latched onto the Sex Pistols as the beginnings of punk rock were met with scorn from those who knew better. McLaren had stolen from the poor and given to the rich. The New York Dolls were already hard at work- and play- in America alongside Television and the CBGB bands McLaren had so directly stolen from. And what the mainstream viewed as punk was already morphing into something else- splitting itself off into no-wave, new wave, post-punk, et al.

    And what of Johnny Rotten's subsequent project? Public Image LTD was pure fashion. A total, unabashed embracement of Disco and all the frills. Hell, there were plenty of frills during those original hundred days. McLaren was a man of frills; his business was practically built on the stuff. And that's just what he was: a business man. He saw a brand- punk- and made it his own. Aligning himself with the right creative talent and tapping into a certain accessible resource- fashion- he tapped into the widespread promotional tool deemed most effective ever since: fashion. And Vivienne Westwood was instrumental. As the original punk rock designer, she holds force still. She wasn't so much a punk, either. Sitting next to McLaren, it was clear. Really, she was a businesswoman.

    McLaren died on Westwood's birthday with the final words, "Free Leonard Peltier". His proclamation of innocence for the Native American serving a controversial lifetime sentence for potentially murdering two police officers in 1975 seemed an odd goodbye. But one even wonders if this was a final calculated media strategy. Even Vivienne capitalized on this odd political throwaway; her next collection was built totally around his last gasp. Adorning buttons and pins and screen-printed fine jerseys, his final words were paired with Native American face paint and leather strapped accessories. In some ways, that's rebellion itself. To go against the conventions of morality and capitalize on it for your own purposes. Maybe that's what punk rock meant. Maybe punk is fashion, after all. And, in that case, it's about time the Met paid fashion's dues.


    Credits

    metmuseum.org


               


     
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