Let’s beat a dead horse, shall we?
After the Met Ball on Monday night, after the fanciest of fancy people climbed into their fancy cars and went to their fancy after-parties, and after they grew tired of all of the public fanciness and retreated to their fancy beds and said good-night, I was in Brooklyn saying “good-morning, it’s time for school!”
I may not be fancy, but I have a fancy friend who’s a member of the Met and invited me to the Members Only viewing of “Punk: Chaos to Couture” on Tuesday morning, which I’d been looking forward to since the announcement. But as my in-box became stuffed with Moda Operandi emails hawking “punk” items with very un-punk prices ranging from $300 to $285,000 the concept of Punk: Chaos to Couture was heading straight to Couture and completely bypassing Chaos. Uh-Oh.
I walked up the steps to the Met, white tents still up, red carpet gone, smell of green money in the air. We headed straight to the exhibit on the second floor, bypassing all the antiquities and culture on the first, only to be asked sweetly by an antique gentleman, “Do you wear your hair like that every day, or did you do it special just for today”. “Every day,” I muttered. “Oh it um looks…um…nice”, said the octogenarian. To him, I was a young punk.
I flipped him the bird. Hey, I take this punk shit seriously.
The exhibit starts off promising with a recreation of the CBGB john—the bathroom from the birthplace of punk on the lower east side of New York, 1974. The text on the wall talks about the band Television and its founding member, Richard Hell. Punk at its core was about music/art/rebelling/counterculture. It wasn’t about fashion, it’s just what they wore: tight ripped jeans, old ripped t-shirts, loads of attitude. Remember it was 1974.
A visitor from London, Malcolm Mclaren found inspiration from the punks at CBGB and brought it back to his then girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood. Through their little shop on King’s Road and Vivienne’s eyes, they added a layer of fashion to punk, and outfitted the movements’ muses, The Sex Pistols, as they sneered and spit out “God Save the Queen.”
Punk was full tilt anti-establishment. And it looked good through Vivienne’s lens. Some of my favorite pieces at the exhibit were Vivienne Westwood’s original t-shirts from 1975+. So simple yet beautifully made, they fit right in next to the complicated couture gowns around them. I think that was the intention of the curators, but I sure wish they kept the Chaos room more “chaotic” rather than bypassing it entirely and heading straight to couture. I wanted to see Vivienne’s shirts slumming with the spit and filth and desperation that time period displayed. I wanted the music loud and my ears bleeding. I wanted the room to vibrate and make me feel something. I wanted the recreation of McLaren’s and Westwood’s store to buzz like it must have in ’75 with the characters that stomped in and out of its doors. All that energy and edge should have been front and center, not pushed to the side to languish in the corner, lifeless and forgotten.
It was clear the establishment wasn’t down with the anti-establishment then and now.
Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the exhibit pays homage to the designers who co-opted punks’ influence and turned it into saleable goods out of reach to most of us. Designers like Junya Watanabe, Rodarte, Givenchy, Commes des Garçon, Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Giles Deacon, Gianni Versace, Dolce & Gabanna, John Galliano’s Dior, Maison Martin Margiela, Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Zhandra Rhodes. Beautiful in their deconstruction, edge and wit, and liberal in their use of safety pins, tears, rips and studs. And photographed and modeled on the pages of the other gala co-sponsor, Vogue, to sell magazines, and help make the other co-sponsor, Moda Operandi, god who knows, how much money.
Look, I like the show plenty, mostly because It’s my dream closet. But I’m also a sucker for wanting to praise the beginnings of ideas and movements. Punk at its core does belong in the halls of the Met, because Punk had something to say, started a revolution and inspired the masses. It’s up to us to listen, even if “society” is uncomfortable with it.
Now Fuck Off!