‘An Embarrassment’ – New York Celebrities ‘Do’ Punk.
Above Photo: Sarah Jessica Parker wearing I don’t know what.
I recently wrote about the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2013 Punk/Fashion exhibition called ‘PUNK: Chaos to Couture’ (see link at the end of this article).
So imagine my dismay when I realised there’d also been a “Punk-themed” Gala to mark the exhibition’s opening, where New York Socialites, models, actors, actresses and ‘Fashion Names’ had turned up in droves to a posh dinner supposedly in Punk-themed clothes. It sounded like a particularly bad episode of Gossip Girl.
I’d rather have stuck safety pins in my eyes than look at some of the photos of tasteless, expensive shit people turned up in, but what do you expect? Bin liners and Jordan’s see-through skirts? (well, maybe for Madonna).
But no. They came in some terrible and outrageously expensive stuff, and I’m only writing about it because I’m interested to see how Punk still influences aspects of our lives today, whether that’s in music, art, culture, or – as in this case – sorry and utterly baffling clothing choices loosely based on a Fashion Elite’s perspective of ‘Punk’.
Sometimes seeing modern-day appropriation and reinterpretation of Punk culture can be quite amusing, as was this, once I’d stopped sneering and then decided to appropriate their culture for this article.
And to help me through it, I’m going to rely on a really excellent, Punk-friendly and fashion-critical article in The Economist, of all places, about the very same ball, which set out its stall with the headline: “Punk Fashion and the Met Ball. An Embarrassment”.
I’ve edited the article below, and added some photos of supposedly Punk-influenced high fashion from the Gala, for illustration.
“It was bound to be a disaster. For weeks New York society had been working itself into a tizzy about the theme for the 2013 Met Ball: punk. Designed to draw attention to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Punk: Chaos to Couture”, the Met’s annual sartorial gala promised a frothy mess of leather and lace concoctions on pilates-toned living mannequins. Indeed the red-carpet result, on May 6th, was duly irksome.
It was a silly idea to begin with. Doing punk through the clothes is like trying to do hippiedom with peace symbols. Punk was never about the threads. The clothes, the hair, the makeup, the sewn-on patches and the badges conveyed a message about who you were and what you stood for. For those who were not interested in punk’s message, the clothes served as a warning. But punk was always more than a fashion statement.
Its ideology was varied, to be sure, but at its roots were an honest set of anti-establishment ideas, rather like the Occupy movement of today. Punk raged against various parts of the machine, with views that were radical at the time. Before it became trendy, punks were anti-corporate, vegan, anti-nuke, eco-friendly, anti-homophobe and feminist. Indeed for many female punks the clothing was a way of escaping society’s rules about how women were supposed to behave and look.
To look at punk viewed only through the attire, rather than the beliefs, is to make a cultural error. Punk wasn’t “chaotic”, as the title of the Met’s new fashion exhibit suggests. Some punks were anarchists, but anarchy and chaos are not the same thing.
The anarcho-punks believed that an absence of government would produce harmony. They were libertarians who believed in personal freedom and individualism. An exhibition that juxtaposes the idea of chaos and punk makes it appear that punk was about nothing. The establishment often undermines youth movements this way. Dismissing them as incoherent is easier than answering angry questions.
With only a hazy memory of shocking hair and studded leather jackets, it is easy to forget that punk varied in its styles, too. The British anarcho-punks preferred dark military-style clothing and Dr Martens boots. American hardcore punks preferred T-shirts and jeans. But the point, always, is to flout convention. It is a way to tell the world what you think of it without ever saying a single word.
So how on earth were A-list celebrities ever expected to pull off the “fuck you” look? Although it may seem possible to dress up as almost anything these days, punk was never going to work at a society bash because the women couldn’t bring themselves to make the necessary departures from style. Punk girls were about as far removed from today’s ideals of manufactured, conformist beauty—with its boob jobs, bleached teeth and botox—as one can be.
Immaculate hair, cover-girl makeup and mani-pedis just isn’t punk. How can a slavish attention to fashion ideals be counter-cultural? How do fabulous jewels and ludicrously expensive accessories express the ideology of the angry and dispossessed? If the assembled celebs had donned rubbish sacks and asked a three-year old to apply their make-up they would have been more authentically punk than what turned up that night.
To be fair, expecting celebrities to deconstruct their carefully manufactured (and financially valuable) images and remake them in the spirit of punk was never going to happen. So the other way of doing punk would be to channel some kind of counter-cultural doctrine; even if one must wear the fabulous gear and comply with industry-set standards of beauty.
But that would require someone’s celebrity stylist to have an original thought or idea. Clearly ludicrous. Vivienne Westwood, doyenne of the punk era, hadn’t forgotten what punk was about. Ms Westwood’s pink coat was pinned with a picture of Bradley Manning and the word “Truth”. She had something to say at least.”
Finally, the best quote I read about some of the shocking outfits worn that night was this, about Beyonce’s get-up, pictured below:
The UK Guardian’s fashion critic wrote: “No matter how many times I look for the good in Beyoncé’s dress I keep coming back to the fact that it looks like the bedlinen from some corrupt regime dictator’s pad.”
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php
See my previous article about the Met’s Punk exhibition here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/bombed-out/articles/punks-influence-on-fashion-the-mets-punk-from-chaos-to-couture-exhibition/