Punk rockers wanted anarchy. They wound up with a $565 T-shirt. That’s the story told in a big new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called “Punk: Chaos to couture.”
The exhibit, which opened to a crowded preview Monday, traces the unlikely merger of a movement known for primal music, drug-abuse and anti-establishment yells, with the glittering world of high fashion.
The collection in the elegant halls of the Met, just down from a gallery of ancient Greek sculptures, presents a veritable time capsule of the deliberately destructive, often self-destructive musical genre.
Shaky video clips of Sid Vicious and other rockers play on giant screens. The air fills with snippets of music and pearls of wisdom from punk’s gurus.
There’s even a life-size replica of the bathroom at the famed Manhattan nightclub CBGB, circa 1975. The room comes complete with the Ramones on the loudspeakers, “DEAD BOYS RULE” graffiti, and cigarette butts on the floor — something you’ll never see in New York’s smoke-free clubs today.
The authentic smell and, of course, the people are absent: they wouldn’t fit in at the Met, even if they were allowed past the door.
“Chaos to couture” isn’t about gritty, revolutionary punk. It’s about pretty punk, about how a nihilistic subculture died, then came back to life as a catwalk fashion show.
The exhibit argues that punks’ love of low-cost, impromptu fashion statements — like a rip in a T-shirt, or a toilet chain as jewelry — was in tune with the way modern designers work.
“In a bizarre twist of fate, their do-it-yourself ethos has become the future of ‘no-future,’” according to notes for the exhibit.
“While the punk ethos might seem at odds with the couture ethos of made-to-measure, both are defined by the same impulses of originality and individuality.”
Mannequin after mannequin appears in the Met galleries wearing high-end, punk-inspired clothes.
A Versace evening dress from the spring/summer collection of 1994 sports huge safety pins. A chain-draped Balenciaga mini dress from autumn/winter of 2004 can be found near a pink silk chiffon Givenchy dress with gold zips from spring/summer 2011.
The scene seems a far cry from the soundtrack to the exhibit where visitors are treated to the likes of the Sex Pistols band musing on the need to “shock people” and to be “obscene and pointless as possible.”
However, as the exhibit points out, commercialization and fashion were never far from the punk experiment.
Legendary impresario Malcolm McLaren is credited with virtually launching UK punk from the boutique SEX that he and his partner Vivienne Westwood ran on London’s Kings Road. And she went on to become a major designer.
After half a dozen rooms, the Met’s exhibit ends much in the same way as punk itself ended: with a gift shop.
Here, the modern punk rocker can get kitted out in a $565 Givenchy T-shirt emblazoned with grafitti-style lettering, or one from Westwood herself, a relative steal at $100 for a white background and the words “climate revolution.”
Want that safety pin accessory? There’s an out-sized one hanging on a chain for $165. Prefer your safety pins with pearls? For $775, they’re yours.