Punk. It’s one of those slightly dodgy fashion trends that rears its head every few years, generally amid much heated ideological debate.
The main gist being: can a fundamentally anti-fashion movement ever really be co-opted successfully by high fashion? It was a debate that was evident not just on the autumn/winter 2013 catwalks but in the hallowed halls of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Punk: Chaos to Couture mapped out fashion’s assimilation of agitprop punk aesthetics. Think shredded Seditionaries T-shirts by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren next to artfully distressed Chanel suits by Karl Lagerfeld. That juxtaposition of rebel and establishment still gets up people’s noses. Which, when you think about it, is pretty punk.
Punk is also a surprising crowd-pleaser – the Chaos to Couture exhibition ranks in the top-five best-attended in the Met’s history. Of course, it was all over the catwalks – from Donatella Versace’s “Vunk” to the studded, kilted and tartan-trussed looks of Moschino, both labels whose polished punks past appeared on Met mannequins.
The influence of the Met’s red carpet on designers can’t be underestimated but there was a more general undercurrent of subversion to the shows this season. There was the aesthetic influence of punk, sure: Fendi’s fur mohicans being one of the most visible (literally – they stand out in a crowd). But, more fundamentally, punk’s provocative, rip-it-up ethos.
Look at Hedi Slimane’s controversial Saint Laurent show inspired, he said, by California girls. Don’t think blonde beach bums in bikinis: apparently Slimane is clocking Courtney Love a great deal in LA, as his tattered checked shirts, shredded floral dresses and hefty bovver boots were an ode to her style, albeit circa 1994.
It also had shades of Marc Jacobs’ 1992 “Grunge” collection for Perry Ellis. That got Jacobs sacked – a few felt Slimane deserved the same fate. But his downbeat style was echoed by Rodarte in a collection of acid-washed silk, studded leather and tattoo-prints inspired by sullen Santa Cruz teenagers.
The umbrage many take with fashion’s uneasy riff-referencing of punk in all its above guises – is that punk is about attitude, not design. That, however, makes it easy to emulate. It doesn’t really matter if your skirt is by Rodarte, Topshop, or indeed something you’ve run-up yourself. It’s the way you wear it that matters.
That said, there are sure-fire styles to grab after that scream subversion. Hefty-soled Doc Martens, tipped Fred Perry shirts redolent of skinheads, mohair in humbug stripes and a touch of slick, slightly sick PVC – punks were originally dubbed “Plastic Peculiars” after their penchant for synthetics – are all shorthand for the look. They’re also easily combined with the rest of your wardrobe, to avoid looking like Vivien from The Young Ones.
Grunge, of course, is simple to assimilate – it’s all of the above, just don’t wash, don’t iron and don’t comb your hair. Weirdly, that’s also the Patti Smith school of punk. It’s easy how lines get blurred.