PUNK: Chaos to Couture


Upon entering the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest fashion installation, “Punk: Chaos to Couture”  one is faced with a floor to ceiling projection showing manic moshers rocking out in the late 1970’s.  The video is flanked on either side by mannequins facing each other with gorgeous Guido Palou head pieces to artfully replicate the wild and crazy punk hair style we all know and love.  While one of them is clad in an all red buckled Galliano ensemble the other is in head to toe Vivienne Westwood, they give not so subtle hand gestures to each other and I realize I’m about to fall down a rabbit hole into a mixed-media wonder world of punk rock.

Depending on your beliefs (and where you’re from) Punk was originated in New York City at clubs CBGB and OMFUG in the East Village in 1974 as well as in London on Kings Road in 1975.  While the culture of Punk may have been created in NYC it’s style which became the expression of their attitude was created in London.  Pioneers like Malcolm Mclaren, Vivienne Westwood, Blondie, The Clash, The Ramones, Richard Hell and Patti Smith lead the charge in this multi-dimensional and defiant counter culture.

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren Betty Sze for Models.com Mannequins clad in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren. Photo courtesy of Betty Sze for Models.com

As you journey through the rooms, the exhibit increasingly unfolds itself to the captive viewer.  Appropriately, the room set to initiate you into the punk-rock world is dedicated to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren – who according to Chrissie Hynde (lead singer of The Pretenders) “Punk would not exist without them.”  Mannequins are clad in everything from studded leather moto jackets, safety pinned ripped mini skirts and defaced printed tees all perfectly complimented by ripped fishnets. They stand in a circle as a 360 degree cubed video display hangs above them depicting a man in a latex costume as sounds of whips play through the speakers.  To top it off, there’s a replica of Westwood’s famous store, bringing us back to 430 Kings Road and allowing for the entire room to speak to the uprise of rebelling against British proper.

gianni dolce DIY Hardware. Left: Gianni Versace.  Right: Dolce & Gabbana 

Extending throughout the remainder of the exhibit, a DIY theme is expressed in four different ways.  The first is DIY Hardware.  It’s here we start to leave the world of punk “chaos” behind and enter into the idea of punk as couture.  The first hallway is lined with designs – both gowns and separates – by Giovanni Versace, Christopher Kane and Riccardo Tisci all of which are slathered in brass metal rings, metal safety pins embellished with crystals, literal balls and chains and gold metal studs used as embellishments as well as functionality.  The hall closes with a Dolce & Gabbana almost ethereal black tulle and lace gown thats cinched with a 6 inch wide silver metal plated belt complete with padlock and key.

Turning the corner, you’re faced with DIY Bricolage.  As the punk culture left nothing to waste, they faceted clothing from all types of mediums elevating them into works of art.  For example, crushed porcelain plates are wrapped in silver wire and turned into a vest while Gareth Pugh created voluminous garments that seemed to be made of textured leather rather than what they actually are – black plastic garbage bags.  Paper mache became jackets, white plastic shopping bags are turned into bathing suits, while pressed bottle caps are exquisitely turned into pencil skirts thanks to Prada.

Bricolage Left: Prada in DIY Bricolage. Right: Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in DIY Destroy 

The remaining two spaces showcase DIY Graffitti and the most punk of them all, DIY Destroy.  The artful graffiti takes many forms: stamped bathing suits, printed graffiti murals that look like artful crayon drawings on Vivienne Westwood ensembles, paint splattered Ann Demeulemeester column dresses, and graffiti blasted Dior ballgowns that stole the show.  All of these pieces stand out on their own and yet are relatively similar as they all don a swirling vortex of colors, shapes and prints.   Lastly we come to the room of deconstruction – the ultimate emblem of punk culture, the uniform of the kids who first ventured into CBGB all those years ago.  This theme of urban decay and government stagnation is loud and clear as Yohi Yamamoto, Commes des Garçons, Rodarte, even Calvin Klein and Chanel present to us wool felt and mohairs, sparingly threaded to show as much skin as possible along with classic ripped denim jeans and cotton tanks paired with combat boots and shredded wool sweaters.

Betty Sze for Models.com The grand finale. Photo courtesy of Betty Sze for Models.com

As you come across the final mannequin in the exhibit, it sports a frontless Maison Martin Margiela “gown”.  As it quite literally flips you off, how could anyone help but smile at the lifeless doll in front of them, as the images of the amazingly inventive and imaginative collection of designs they have just had the opportunity to view so up close and personally dance through their minds.  While separately there is certainly chaos amongst the designs – once the pieces are put together, there is an artful cohesion to it all.  A passion for the abandonment of rules, the bravery of being an individual and under no circumstances conforming to anyone else’s ideals of what is right and what is wrong.

PUNK: Chaos to Couture runs through August 14th.  For more information, visit MetMuseum.org

Feature image courtesy of the MET. 

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About the Author

Jillian Magenheim is the Editorial Director and Director of Partnerships for OliviaPalermo.com. She is also a digital media consultant for various fashion and beauty brands. You can follow her thoughts on Twitter @Magenhaz and on Instagram @jillianrose_m