Punk: Turning Rebellion into Money
There’s a black and white image of a theatre crowd, three figures sit in the foreground; a man in a mesh T-shirt and blazer, eyes heavy with make-up and lips as black as death. To the far right, a woman with cropped hair, her stiletto heel magnified as it reaches towards the camera, and in the middle, another woman, her fishnet leg resting on the back of a chair, a swastika band wrapped around her forearm and her breasts exposed, outlined by her cupless PVC bra. Siouxsie Sioux is watching the Sex Pistols, sitting on the edge of the year that shook the UK to its core, the year that Punk took over.
Not long before that image was taken, Malcolm McLaren had returned from New York, inspired by what he saw in clubs such as CBGB’s and his time spent as the manager of the New York Dolls, he and his then partner, Vivienne Westwood, hoisted the new pink neon rubber sign above their shop on the Kings Road, the sign read SEX.
On a Saturday afternoon you might find a then-unknown Sid Vicious behind the till or the shocking shop girl, Jordan and, also unknown, Siouxsie, flicking through the racks, head to toe in bondage gear, punctured with safety pins and wrapped in chains. The store laid the foundations for Punk to take off, creating a new counterculture by merging fashion and music with politics, and sweeping away everything else in its path.
Taking inspiration from those who came before them such as Teddy Boys, skinheads and even their own school uniforms, Punks set out to shock and disturb. They were anti-establishment and anti-capitalism. Westwood designed a range of T-shirts, to be worn by the Pistols on stage, which would to this day, still be considered bold. Some designs included an image of the Queen with a safety pin through her lip and black tape over her eyes, a Swastika printed on another with the words ‘Destroy’, and a pair of naked breasts.
Mick Jones, guitarist of The Clash, once claimed that Punk only lasted one hundred days before the mainstream got a hold of it, changing its ethos and purpose completely. Others began to emulate the way they dressed, listened to the same music and even Westwood became a household name, with many other designers following her lead and creating collections based entirely on those that straight edged society once feared.
One of the most famous examples of this is the Versace safety pin dress that Liz Hurley squeezed into in 1994. While most recently, Gareth Pugh closed his AW13/14 show with dresses made of garbage bags, seemingly inspired by Johnny Rotten, who wore the bags as dresses, describing them as the “perfect item of clothing… you looked stunning”. Punk wanted to challenge what the rest of society believed was right or beautiful, fashionable and cool.
Rotten also gave insight into the relationship with Punk music and fashion, when he revealed that Sid Vicious would look at Vogue and copy the looks he liked. The link begins to strengthen even more when the Godfather of Punk himself, Malcolm McLaren, once declared that, “Fashion was much more important than the music. Punk was the sound of fashion”.
The typical trademarks of tartan, safety pins, studs and rips have been popular since the 70s, and arose from a lower social status and of not being able to afford new clothing, instead fixing old items with pins and patches. And whilst couture creates one-off or limited-edition pieces, this method of Do-It-Yourself has been embraced by companies such as Converse, selling packets of studs for customers to create their own bespoke pair.
The re-emergence of the trend is a welcome progression from the Fetish and Grunge elements we saw at the A/W12/13 shows, no doubt planned to coincide with the recently opened Met Museum exhibition, From Chaos to Couture. The A/W13/14 runways were rife with designers paying their respects to the era; Givenchy had Bambi crossed with organza skirts and Versace had Vunk; Donatella’s own version.
The ever loyal High Street have followed suit with dedicated brands such as Tripp NYC, a go-to for traditional items, producing pieces for hardcore followers of the trend such as Biker Jackets, Cigarette Jeans and Mesh Tops, available on ASOS.
Topshop’s bondage-style Leather Seatbelt Buckle Harness hails Siouxsie and Jordan’s heavy style. Whilst an Animal Print Coat from Zara and a Red Leather Look Jacket from Topshop are Versace–inspired style steals.
And if you’re not ready to completely join the anarchy just yet, accessorize with a pair of Cross Drop Earrings from ASOS or a Skull Ring from Topshop.
From left: Red Leather-Look Jacket (£58) and Seatbelt Buckle Harness (£45) both Topshop, Tartan Jacket from Tripp NYC on ASOS (£88), Patent Dr Martens (£75), Zara Animal Print Coat (£89.99), ASOS Cross Drop Earrings (£8), Darling Animal & Studded Dress (£69), Topshop Skull Ring (£4) and New Look Tartan Skirt (£17.99)