Purists sneer; true believers collect the originals. Most prized are Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's clothes from Seditionaries, the King's Road shop that became the mecca of punk during the late Seventies (and closed in 1980). One of the main dealers is known simply as Barnsley (infuriatingly, he refuses to tell anyone his real age or name), a former stylist for i-D magazine, who runs a tiny clothes shop in Soho called Acupuncture. Since opening last May, Acupuncture has become the centre of a thriving trade in secondhand Seditionaries. Sellers - including Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols, Boy George, and Pete Burns from Dead or Alive - take their clothes to the shop; Barnsley then contacts collectors to see who will offer the highest price, and the shop takes 30 per cent commission. Rare designs - often featuring human hair or chicken bones - that are still in good condition can fetch up to pounds 2,000 apiece.
'The price of Seditionaries has risen because as we get further into the future, punk becomes more like some legendary event in history,' says Barnsley. 'It's obvious that the clothes will go up in price - buying them is an investment. I consider all Seditionaries clothes to be pieces of art.'
His major customers are Nellie Hooper (a former member of Soul II Soul and Massive Attack, and the producer of Bjork's Debut album), and the Japanese fashion designer, Hiroshi Fujiwara. Both have been collecting Seditionaries since the shop of that name closed. Last year, Hooper reputedly spent close to pounds 100,000 on the clothes, with Fujiwara not far behind.
But not all the collectors are so affluent. Paul Cannell, a 28-year-old artist who lives in Ilford, used to visit the Seditionaries shop every Saturday when he was a teenager. He sold some of the clothes 10 years ago, which he now regrets, partly because he sees them as works of art, partly because of their increase in value. 'I sold a pair of bondage pants for pounds 4.50 to a friend and he wore them until they fell to bits . . . At the time, it was a pair of trousers, nothing else. If I'd have known they could have been worth pounds 1,000, I would have kept them,' he says. He still wears his remaining Seditionaries clothes, and is adding to his collection through a system of bartering paintings for clothes. 'I'm still a punk at heart,' he says.
Like Cannell, Julian Kalinowski started to buy clothes from Seditionaries 15 years ago, when he was 13. 'I used to go down there with my pocket money and the shirts were pounds 2, arm bands and handkerchiefs were 50p. I took my mum in there once, to buy me some boots that were pounds 15, and she was appalled.'
He keeps his collection of Seditionaries in the pink front-room of his Clapham council flat, along with an assortment of prized Barbie Dolls. But now that prices for the clothes have reached such extraordinary heights, he has been forced out of the market. 'The idea of these clothes being sold for pounds 2,000 just seems ridiculous.' The collectors who can still afford the Seventies clothes, he says, are nostalgic thirtysomethings. 'They're not buying a T-shirt, they're buying their own little piece of rock and roll history.'
Instead, Kalinowski is buying cheaper imitations. These can be found on a flourishing Portobello market stall run by Dave Carroll, another former teenage punk turned entrepreneur.
Carroll used to sell original Seditionaries, but has recently started selling his own versions; they 'complement' the McLaren/Westwood designs, he says, rather than simply copy them. His clothes - which bear the label 'CHAOS - Cockney Visionaries' - are now also being licensed in Japan and America.
'During the Eighties I was buying and collecting Seditionaries just from a nostalgic point of view,' says Carroll. 'In the end I sold my collection to a Japanese girl. But I still keep an eye out for the gear. I got a pair of black bondage trousers in a boot sale; original Seditionaries, exclusive collection. They cost me 20p. The following Saturday I sold them for pounds 150. You can ask what you want for the clothes, up to pounds 2,000 really. I'd sell a muslin top for pounds 100, a T-shirt for pounds 70, bondage pants for pounds 300.'
The Seditionaries collectors and dealers - mostly men, all fervent - remain unimpressed by this year's polished reinterpretation of punk, as seen on the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York. After all, the woman who started the whole thing, Vivienne Westwood, has shown no interest in the current revival. (She steadfastly ignored neo-punk in her recent collections, instead concentrating on crinolines and ballgowns).
According to Barnsley, 'The people that collect Seditionaries aren't collecting it because of the punk revival in high fashion. They've always been collecting it and after this punk thing has blown over they'll still be collecting it.'-
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