Debbie Harry – from Punk: An Aesthetic
It’s so odd how youth culture can so easily become commodified, pressed from a cry into the dark of capitalism into the oil which lubricates its machinations. If I sound like a wild conspiracy theorist, it’s probably because I am.
But seriously, it is odd how the things that are invented on the street, without the help of trend forecasters and clothing oligarchs, can go from being under the radar to tired, overprocessed and underappreciated within a matter of decades.
We are nostalgia hawkers. Because the world is forever getting smaller, and because of our ability to communicate and receive information immediately, we are privy to more and more of the horrible things that happen on every continent. We look backwards. We look at the past, even the terrible periods, through a lens smeared thickly with Vaseline.
Carson McCullers once wrote, “We are homesick for the places we have never known”. When it comes to youth and subculture, we are homesick for a million different places at once. Who hasn’t wanted to dress like a teddy boy, a rocker, a mod, a skinhead, a goth, a New Romantic? Who, for that matter, hasn’t wanted to be a punk?
Punk was always a legitimate subculture (if you think that all subcultures are legit, then cast your mind back to Nu Rave. Will people still be wearing fluorescent leggings in twenty years? I thought not) but next year will see it cemented in its definitive place of the fashion pantheon: Punk will have its own exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum in New York.
‘Punk: From Chaos to Couture’ will be opened at the annual Met Ball on the 6th of May next year. It’s one of those events where we’re not entirely too sure what happens inside, so photos of the guests are invariably plastered all over the papers, Oscars-style the next day. The outfits are usually themed to the exhibition, so we can already tell that this is going to be one hell of a red carpet.
It’s interesting to see where punk ended up, especially when its fiercely DIY, anti-establishment origins are considered. In a new book, Punk: An Aesthetic, punk chroniclers Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg chart the beginning, progression and legacy of the scene in an anthropologically comprehensive package.
The book is manna for punk lovers. Brought to the public by formidable art book publishers Rizzoli, it is everything that a one would come to expect from the publishing house and, of course, Savage (who is well known for his seminal book on punk, ‘England’s Dreaming’). It is one of my favourite books this year.
Between the fliers and albums covers are pictures of punk’s luminaries, all incredibly stylish; here Malcolm McLaren as a teddy boy, there Debbie Harry in a pair of pleather knickers with a studded belt. We see pages of Vivienne Westwood’s still shocking Seditionaries t-shirts and acres of Linder Sterling’s postmodern feminist collages – her talent most recently found her collaborating on prints with feted Brit fashion designer Jonathan Saunders.
We don’t need to bypass the irony that punk publishing started out on badly Xeroxed sheets of paper as an antithesis to the expensive, glossy volumes that they now reside in. It’s the natural way of all trends – for better or worse (in this case, I think better) they become absorbed into fashion.