Whatever else British punk rock gave pop culture, it was always a revolution in fashion, engineered by Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLaren and his partner, designer Vivienne Westwood. The two pioneered punk’s S&M-inspired look from their Chelsea boutique, SEX, a onetime record shop that morphed into the epicenter of London street fashion. McLaren passed away in 2010, but his former partner Westwood is still designing—only now her work is haute couture nostalgia, its shocking sneer at uptight British culture a museum piece. Her latest collection, Chaos, revisits many of the iconic designs of the mid-seventies made famous by the Sex Pistols, such as the “tits square” and “cowboy square” t-shirts and the ubiquitous safety pin.
The name of Westwood’s retro latest work is reflected in a current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called PUNK: Chaos to Couture, which began May 9th and runs until August 14th. In the video above, curator Andrew Bolton discusses the exhibition’s staging of low and high culture crossover. In the press materials, Bolton is frank about the contradictory aims of punk and high fashion:
Since its origins, punk has had an incendiary influence on fashion… Although punk’s democracy stands in opposition to fashion’s autocracy, designers continue to appropriate punk’s aesthetic vocabulary to capture its youthful rebelliousness and aggressive forcefulness.
This is not the first time Bolton has appropriated punk fashion for high art or worked with Vivienne Westwood. In 2006, Bolton curated a Met exhibit called AngloMania (catalog here), which drew its name and inspiration from another of Westwood’s collections.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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