British royalty is coming to America – not Prince Harry arriving for his official tour on Thursday but rather the opening the same day of ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Ignore the posh playing polo; let’s pogo with Johnny and Sid.
From now until mid-August, impossible queues are anticipated on the Met’s second floor – as seen during the Alexander McQueen retrospective two years ago – where seven galleries have been transformed by the museum’s Costume Institute for an exhibition that is part celebration of punk, part examination of its impact on fashion. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren meet Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, again.
Ms Westwood is in town for the occasion as is Mr McLaren’s widow, Young Kim. And scores of the most connected and kinetic of the fashion industry from both sides of the Atlantic were due at the museum on Monday night for the Costume Institute ball where they were set to gape not just at each other’s interpretations of safety-pin couture but also at the terrifying 15,000-razor blade chandelier specially hung in the main hall.
Not everyone will like what they see. There is a whiff of Disney in the mock-up of Sex/Seditionaries, the punk boutique that Westwood and McLaren once ran at 430 Kings Road. And anyone who has ever felt any kind of ownership of punk is unlikely to be impressed by the faux gentleman’s bog from the old New York club CBGB, however accurately it has been recreated.
And what, if they were still alive, would figures like Sid Vicious, think of punk being appropriated by an institution as established as the Met? “I think they would have been honoured,” Andrew Bolton, the British-born curator of the Costume Institute, said. “A lot of what they did was about self-expression.”
Primarily designed by another Briton, Sam Gainsbury, the exhibition takes guests first through two galleries that reveal the roots of punk (the loo and the shop) while the rest focus more on fashion. Mannequins with spiky wigs wear costumes that flaunt their punk-rock influences – chains, pins, studs or other fetish symbols of rebellion – many of which date less from the 1970s and more the post-2000 era. Zandra Rhodes and Thom Browne are there. So are Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Burberry and Chanel.
Still, each gallery is adorned at one end by huge screens showing moving images of the icons of punk, including Vicious, Rotten and Joe Strummer of The Clash.
“These are my personal heroes so we have made them into these great big King Kong’s,” Gainsbury, who also designed the razor chandelier, said. As for the risk that this exhibition may struggle if compared with the super-successful McQueen show of 2011, which she also helped put together, Ms Gainsbury seemed confident. “That was what that was and this is what this is,” she told this reporter.