Punk: From Chaos To Couture, a Closet Feminist Review

By: Nicola Storey

Punk: Chaos To Couture Press Preview

No style of movement quite says F*** YOU to society and it’s social sanctions like Punk. Not only is punk all about empowerment through rebellion against society, but the original British movement belonged to the disenfranchised lower class. It was about disrupting the status quo, breaking rules, rebelling against the government, punching slut shaming in the face; it was (un) fashion. So when the exhibit entitled “Punk From Chaos to Couture” made its debut at the Met, The Closet Feminist decided to get an inside look to see if it could live up to all the hype.

The exhibit notes that, “through their political and environmental exhortations, they [the designers] seek, not only to build awareness but also, like punks, to bring about social revolution by questioning and threatening the status quo.”  Now, while the collection’s narratives succeeded in putting into words what “punk” represented, the very idea of designers creating high-fashion punk outfits is, in its essence, consumerist and simply un-punk. Indeed, the exposition featured what I can only assume were silver-plated safety pins for many garments, an idea that conflicts with the reality of the lower classes that brought punk to life; as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols explains, “Tears, safety pins, rips all over the gaff, third rate tramp thing, that was poverty really, lack of money. The area of your pants falls out, you just use safety pins.”

Indeed, the exhibit did get the hardware right, featuring everything from studs to safety pins, garbage bag dresses to cigarette burned garments, and even a boob shirt or two. My personal favourites included Christopher Bailey’s spiked and studded hardware leather jacket for Burberry, the infamous “God Save the Queen” T-shirt, Gareth Pugh’s garbage bag dresses, and a disgustingly accurate replica of the toilet at the iconic CBGB in New York. This being said,  the exhibit seemed like a whole lot of eye-candy: lacking real depth, yet narrating the foundation of punk views while featuring the music, style and quotes from punk icons such as Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry with accompanying videos of their performances (edited by Nick Knight, a fashion photographer and film-maker.)

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Mick Jones of The Clash once stated that punk in its purest, original form only lasted for 100 days at the Roxy Club in London before the media got behind it and transformed it into its modern counterpart. The first punks didn’t buy their looks, but found objects and ascribed to them new meaning, creating a physical identity made up of objects and individual craftsmanship. While the exhibit was aesthetically pleasing and portrayed an accurately “punk” look, it lacked the anonymity of these punk innovators and their DIY creations.  Instead, the exposition focused on the work of designers who, while recreating the punk look, were far from punks themselves and ironically represented the type of consumerism which the movement fiercely fought against.

Keeping this in mind, it is therefore unsurprising that the exhibit has been thoroughly critiqued for draining punk’s original movement of meaning by much of the media, including the New YorkerThe Irish Times, and The Daily Beast. The idea of “punk couture” is fundamentally problematic because ‘couture’ implies high society, while punk advocates for classlessness: the rips and tears normally attributed to the impoverished and unfashionable becoming a symbol of empowerment. It wasn’t about consuming a fashion trend but about creating your own aside from the realm of money.

Speaking of which, The Met stayed true to punk on some fronts; the exhibition is open to the public, making it universally accessible to all classes. Furthermore, suggested prices allow you to choose how much, or how little you pay, meaning the viewership (and therefore the ownership of the exhibit), was not confined to the upper class in the same way that only the upper class owns couture.

Considering it was called Punk from Chaos to Couture for a reason, the designers seemed to paying homage to the style of punk by highlighting what punk had in common with couture. Yes, couture is surrounded by consumerism (which any true punk would hate), but what it has in common with the chaos of punk is that it creates unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. The curator of the exhibit, Andrew Bolton, explained, “this show is more about punk as an aesthetic… I’ve always felt there is such a strong similarity between haute couture and punk; punk was about creating one-off pieces. You might buy a jacket from a store and customize it; you’re the only one in the world with that jacket. So with Riccardo Tisci’s [creative director at Givenchy] work, I looked at pieces that, instead of using traditional haute couture embroidery or feathers or lacework or leather, are using punk materials and hardware.”

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Ultimately, while this idea seems to have merit at first, the difference between punk and couture is found in the accessibility to each form, and what each represents. There is a gaping separation between an unemployed nobody creating their own DIY piece of clothing (say, drawing a pair of tits on a t-shirt or wearing a condom outside a pair of pants) as a big ole’ F*** YOU to consumerism and the status quo, and a designer creating an expensive, one-off couture piece: one form answers to no one, and the other is an ideal consumerist product that is bought to fit into a certain bourgeois ideal. As a couple audio clips at the exhibit explain,“freedom is the idea that I’m outside of society’s or anybody’s idea of how I should look.” Being punk is being “uninterested in the prescribed ideals of beauty based on purity, perfection and symmetry.” As for me? I took a cue from Debbie Harry of Blondie, leaving the exhibit feeling like I could conquer the world in my skivvies.

 

 Nicola Storey is a freelance writer based in Montreal. Follow her on Twitter @shortStorey.

Image credits here, here, and here.

Looks for Ladies in Politics: Hilary Swank as Alice Paul

photo posted on post-gazette.com

 

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Iron-Jawed Angels directed by Katja von Garnier depicts the real-life suffragettes including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns who pretty much are the reason there are women involved in politics in the first place. This 2004 movie is excellent–it stars Hilary Swank and Anjelica Huston amongst others, and even if you aren’t into politics or political movies, the story is great and the clothes are fantastic.

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Erica Weiner two tone earrings, 1,135 CAD / Edwardian jewelry, 1,035 CAD / Cloche hat, 245 CAD / Anthropologie beauty product, 6.20 CAD / Ladies Victorian Day Costume, 56 CAD / Aspinal of London Audrey Leather Bridal Gloves, 125 CAD

Gloss over This: Christina Hendricks in Lucky Magazine

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Other than the fact that, “for the first few years on the show all anyone wanted to talk to me about was her underwear,” Hendricks has always loved the intense wardrobe aspect of her Mad Men role […] Being the center of attention is not easy for Hendricks. She had to reminder herself again and again: “Just walk down the hall and try to imagine that you know everyone is looking at you.”

-Christina Hendricks in “Out of Office” by Sarah Miller in Lucky June/July 2013.

Looks for Ladies in Politics: Nicola Murray

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When she’s not dealing verbal assaults from Malcolm, Nicola Murray (played by Rebecca Front) from BBC Four’s The Thick of It is learning the ropes of politics one humorous way or another. The first time she meets Malcolm (Peter Capaldi), he goes off on her for being dressed inappropriately (she was wearing a modest cardigan and flower-print dress), and she changes her tune accordingly. Here’s an outfit we think she would rock while running the show.

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Yves Saint Laurent button down shirt, 670 CAD / Maison Scotch studded jacket, 305 CAD / NIC+ZOE tulip skirt, 110 CAD / Timeless nude patent leather heels, 46 CAD / CÉLINE black tote bag / Rhinestone jewelry, 145 CAD / Tory Burch stud earrings, 81 CAD

On Our Radar: Icons, New News, & Where We’re Falling Short

There are a few things on our mind right now that are too short for a feature article, too long for a tweet, so given that we are having an Goldilocks dilemma right now, here’s a mishmash of a post!

Miuccia Prada: A Feminist!

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Image above found here.

We’re always excited to discover fashion-world feminists, even if we’re super late to the party. When checking out our usual haunts today we discovered that design powerhouse Miuccia Prada (above) is a feminist! Unfortunately, it was in an article where she’s being a bit ageist, but we’re still glad to hear Prada is in good company with other fashion industry feminists like Diane Von Furstenberg, Tavi Gevinson, Norma Kamali, and Connie Wang, the global editor of Refinery 29 (just to name a few). Not only is she a feminist, according to Wikipedia, she also has her PhD in Political Science! So, that’s Dr. Miuccia Prada to us, then! Very cool.

Where we’re falling short….

Recently, we ordered two back issues of the one and only fabulous WORN Journal, specifically issues 12 and 13 through the WORN Fashion Journal Spring Cleaning Sale. We were especially interested in the piece “Out of The Closet: The Evolution of Gay Men’s Fashion From Green Carnations to Hot Cops” by Max Mosher in Issue 12, and “Unbinding Binaries: Using Clothing to Unlock the Door of Gender Identity,” by Alyssa Garrison in Issue 13.

Stores divide their goods between men and women, from socks and jewelry to jeans and t-shirts. These clothes fall into “fit” guidelines that subscribe to normative gender ideals and send some very pointed messages: women are dainty and slim-waisted, with larger chests and smaller feet, and embellishments are key. Men have massive shoulders, long legs, and narrow hips. Even if women’s clothing is made in a menswear style, details like the small back pockets on pants or the side a dress shirt buttons on are giveaways that can prevent passing. This garment binary makes it nearly impossible for those in the grey areas to find clothing.

-Alyssa Garrison “Unbinding Binaries: Using Clothing to Unlock the Door of Gender Identity,” in WORN Fashion Journal Issue 13

Then it hit us: The Closet Feminist is seriously lacking fashion and style-related articles from LGBTQ2S perspectives. This is sooo not okay with us, and we want to take this opportunity to share that we are always looking for articles from new writers, and that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations are welcome to write for us. Seriously. If you have any questions or concerns about this, feel free to email us at info (at) theclosetfeminist.ca.

And now for some Good News!

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We have announced it on Twitter and Facebook, but in case you missed the latest news: The Closet Feminist is now part of the rabble.ca blogging community! We’re really, really excited about this. We’ll still be posting everything here of course, but in case you wanted to check out some other really awesome, progressive, Canadian blogs, def check out the rabble.ca blogs!

 

 

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