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‘An Embarrassment’ – New York Celebrities ‘Do’ Punk.

‘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).

But I did like the mohican headdress...

But she did try with the mohican headdress…

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.

Miley Cyrus was one of only a few who seemed to get it.

Miley Cyrus was one of only a few who seemed to get it right, at least.

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’.

Cyrus in full.

More Cyrus.

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”.

Ivanka Punk Does Trump.

Ivanka Punk Does Trump?

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.

Ever wondered what Tommy Hilfiger looks like? Here's the answer, sadly.

Ever wondered what Tommy Hilfiger looks like? Here’s the answer, sadly.

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.

Half a Sex Pistols album cover (or Bombed Out book cover). Some marks for the pink outfit, surely.

Half a Sex Pistols album cover (or Bombed Out book cover). Some marks for the pink outfit, surely.

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.

The UK Guardian said of this Katy Perry look: "This dress isn't as mad as it thinks it is, which is kind of the problem. The Dolce and Gabbana catwalk look does make the singer look like a walking, sparkling pre-Reformation rood screen and the crown headpiece has a touch of Courtney Love about it. Which is mad and punkish in theory, but on Perry – who is a little "I'm a bit mad me" when it comes to her wardrobe anyway – the overall effect is a bit flat. On someone more classy, this could have been Punk. Maybe."

The UK Guardian said of this Katy Perry look: “This dress isn’t as mad as it thinks it is, which is kind of the problem on Perry – who is a little “I’m a bit mad me” when it comes to her wardrobe anyway. On someone more classy, this could have been Punk. Maybe.” I doubt it….

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.

Uma Thurman's idea of a Punk theme.

Uma Thurman’s strange idea of a Punk theme.

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.

Madonna forgets her skirt.

Madonna forgets her skirt, but there’s no doubting her Punk fashion intent.

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.

Kylie Minogue's idea of a Punk look - surprising for for an 'Eighties singer.

Kylie Minogue’s sorry idea of a Punk look – surprising for an ‘Eighties singer.

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.

Born 10 years after the Punk Explosion, Taylor Swift had no clue what to wear to a Punk-themed shindig.

Born 10 years after the Punk Explosion, Taylor Swift had no clue what to wear to a Punk-themed shindig.

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.

Debbie Harry, one of the Queens of Punk, didn't even try, but nailed it by not doing so. With Chris Stein and Clem Burke of Blondie (Burke gets top marks for wearing a CBGB's t-shirt).

Debbie Harry, with Chris Stein and Clem Burke of Blondie (Burke gets top marks for wearing a CBGB’s t-shirt too).

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.

More New Romantic looking: British actress Kristen Stewart in New Wave jumpsuit.

More New Romantic than Punk: Actress Kristen Stewart in New Wave jumpsuit by Stella McCartney.

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.”

The best Punk move of the night - Vivienne Westwood wears her own clothes, supporting Bradley manning, currently serving 35 years in jail for his Wikileaks.

The best Punk move of the night – Vivienne Westwood wears her own clothes, supporting Bradley Manning, currently serving 35 years in jail for his Wikileaks.

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.”

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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."

Beyonce As Fashion Dictator.

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/

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1 Comment

  1. Ken Liss

    great article but it really disappoints me that only Miley Cyrus got close to right. Of course punk was many things and not just a look, but, at an event where you have the opportunity to do something really outrageous visually, the attendees blew it big time.

    Reply

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