Prior to the opening of Punk: Chaos to Couture, there was quite a bit of buzz. From what I gathered, a lot of people criticized the exhibition before they even saw it. Strong criticism like this make me wary. I like to make my own observations first. So I was careful not to read anything about the show until I got a chance to take it in myself.
Black leather lambskin with plastic & silver metal spikes and zippers by Christopher Bailey of Burberry, 2013.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a huge fan of Vivienne Westwood
, so I assumed some of her work would be there. Thankfully, it was! Vivienne Westwood was dating a member of the Sex Pistols. In the early 1970s, they opened a boutique on King’s Road. The name changed several times, but was most notably called Sex
and later Seditionaries
(1976-1980). Westwood’s early designs were anti-establishment. She purposely defiled popular culture images with graffiti, like the t-shirt below. Many of the t-shirts openly referenced anarchy and communism. She also incorporated fetish wear into her designs.
“God Save the Queen” T-Shirt by Vivienne Westwood from Seditionaries, c. 1976-1980.
Most of the exhibit then focused on how punk trickled up and influenced luxury designers.
The punk aesthetic can be seen in intentional rips and tears, hardware embellishments, and a sort of disheveled look. Leather is always a nice finishing touch, too. These two leather pieces really caught my attention.
Ensembles by Balmain, 2011.
The skirt was my favorite part of the look. Black and red leather covered in studs, intentionally shredded and pieced back together with safety pins. While it has a DIY feel, work like this takes meticulous precision to complete. Look at how the safety pins are placed so closely next to one another.
As I moved through the galleries, I was really interested not only the details of the garments, but also how the space of the galleries had changed. After noting how the designers distressed and embellished the garments, I focused on the design of the space. The museum staff had cleverly used styrofoam which they carved with graffiti and tags. It was very faint, but visible in this columned gallery.
Wedding Dress by Zandra Rhodes, 1977
I also started to see a correlation to other exhibits I’d see. This jersey wedding dress by Zandra Rhodes reminded me a lot of what I had seen at Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced. Burrows liked to use jersey and finished the edges with a zig zag stitch. This kept the silhouette light, and made the edges wavy.
Burrows called this the lettuce edge. You can see how Zandra Rhodes used this same technique, but also used int for cut outs in the skirt. Punctuated with crystals and chains, the jersey curls and waves around the body. It’s attached to the satin bodice with safety pins.
The construction details on this gown reminded me of staples.
Recycling was another theme I loved. I think it takes someone really creative to take discards and turn them into something fashionable. This part of the exhibit was called Bricolage, which is taking random materials to create a work of art. Bits of paper, envelopes, trash bags and other discarded objects were whipped up into the most inventive garments. Others were made of fabrics treated to look like trash.
Ensemble by John Galliano, 2001.
This ensemble by Galliano is actually cotton twill printed with a newspaper pattern. Raffia, lurex, and scotch tape complete the look.
But my favorite room was dedicated to graffiti fashion.
Evening gown by Dolce Gabbana, 2008.
I’m fascinated with graffiti because it reclaims our right to art in daily life. Art is generally the first to go with budget cuts in any organization – schools, corporations, the government. It’s spontaneous, fun – and often temporary.
Alexander McQueen’s performance dress was on display, too. This dress was presented on stage, and the paint was sprayed in real time in front of the audience.
Dress by Alexander McQueen, 1999.
Also on display was this dress by Vivienne Westwood. It reminded me of Philip Guston’s later work. (Guston was an abstract expressionist painter. His later work was very cartoonish. Have a look for yourself.)
Dress by Vivienne Westwood, 2007.
A Day’s Work by Philip Guston, 1970.
Image courtesy of Daily Artist
Dress by Vivienne Westwood, 2007.
I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t read any of the reviews before I went. The DIY themes gave me lots of ideas how I’d like to customize my own wardrobe. There will be updates when I get to these projects this summer.
Unless otherwise mentioned, all images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.