Punk-Rock Beauty Rewind
In anticipation of tonight’s Met Ball, many an editorial page has been devoted to the dissemination of the event’s theme: punk. What is it? What did it mean in the late seventies, when it first hit the cultural lexicon as a way to describe the loud and fast sound simultaneously surfacing in London and New York? And what does it mean today, when it’s an adjective that gets attached to pretty much everything—from eye shadow and celebrities to top-forty tunes and anything with studs, safety pins, or bondage-style accoutrements? At a base level, the word—whether applied to music, style, or general life philosophy—is rooted in the bucking of convention, of being brash, defiant, untethered and gloriously in-your-face. That said, punk’s most basic definition runs counter to conventional beauty norms. Yet the women who came to define the subculture left their mark both sonically and visually, boasting beauty signatures that we’ve taken the liberty of recounting for you below. There’s no telling whether we’ll see an homage to their tried-and-true techniques on the red carpet tonight, but here’s hoping.
The Beauty Mark: Skunked tips and powder-blue lids
Required Listening: Blondie’s “X-Offender”
If punk had a premier babe, it would be Debbie Harry. With her razor-sharp cheekbones, bleach-blonde, ink-dipped crop, killer style (the high-waisted jean and one-shoulder dress have never had a better model), and tough-girl attitude, she cut a unique figure in CBGB-era New York. And so did Blondie’s upbeat sound, which, while rooted in punk, also borrowed elements of disco, reggae, and new wave.
The Beauty Mark: Icy blonde locks
Required Listening: Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”
A colonizer of punk experimentation, Gordon remains as influential and prolific today as she was when she first emerged on the scene with Sonic Youth, in New York, in 1981. The band’s landmark cacophonous, feedback-laced sound seemed to create a new genre in itself: art rock. Besides being Sonic Youth’s platinum-blonde, bass-playing bombshell par excellence, Gordon has also dabbled in the worlds of art, fashion design, producing, directing (she is partially responsible for The Breeders’ “Cannonball” video), and modeling; she stars as one of Hedi Slimane’s muses in the designer’s recent Saint Laurent Music Project series.
The Beauty Mark: Jet-black mullet
Required Listening: “Bad Reputation”
Joan Jett was paving the way for women in music while still a teenager: At age 15, she helped found one of the most kick-ass all-girl bands ever, The Runaways, supposedly writing their signature hit, “Cherry Bomb,” in minutes, for Cherie Currie to perform at her audition. Jett would go on to make a major impact as a solo artist, and even started her own record label, Blackheart, in 1980, when no one else would sign her. With her kohl-rimmed eyes, black leather ensembles, devil-may-care attitude, and deep black mullet—which both Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs have sampled on the runway in recent years—Jett was, and is, the ultimate punk-rock bad girl.
The Beauty Mark: Spiky black strands and artful black eye makeup
Required Listening: Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden”
Beyoncé’s recent nipple-emblazoned glittery breastplate looks positively PG compared to the fetish attire favored by goth-punk pioneer Siouxsie Sioux in the seventies and eighties. Her punk career would start as a fan—she was an active member of the Bromley Contingent (with Billy Idol), following the Sex Pistols, until Malcolm McLaren helped her launch her own music career, and thus was born Siouxsie and the Banshees. The band’s uniquely dynamic sound was bolstered by Siouxsie’s own animated stage presence and provocative look: bondage gear, a halo of jet-black, spiky hair, and that dense, inky, goth Cleopatra eye makeup.
The Beauty Mark: Raven-hued shag
Required Listening: “Gloria”
Punk poet extraordinaire, Patti Smith was a revolutionary force in New York’s kinetic seventies music scene, proving that one singular voice could have as much explosive bravado as a parade of shrieking guitars. One need only listen to the brash opening lines of her groundbreaking 1975 debut album Horses—”Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”—to appreciate that Smith was punk through and through. So punk, in fact, that it was Smith who would headline the final night at CBGB when it finally shut its doors in 2006. As widely influential as her music was, the so-called “godmother of punk” also made an impact with her look: resolutely androgynous attire, a permanently tousled shag, and nary a trace of makeup.
The Beauty Mark: Rooty blonde hair and smeared red lipstick
Required Listening: Hole’s “Teenage Whore”
One of the most simultaneously revered and reviled women in music, Love played briefly with Sugar Baby Doll (an early punk effort with Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland), Babes in Toyland, and Faith No More, and tried her hand at acting (she was Nancy’s junkie best friend in Sid and Nancy), before forming Hole in 1989. Kim Gordon would produce their first album, 1991′s raw, powerful Pretty on the Inside, which earned critical acclaim aplenty. But Love’s appeal has always been about more than the music; it’s in her wildly unpredictable behavior and, in her nineties heyday, that singular kinder-whore style that had many girls smearing their red lipstick and clipping baby barrettes into their hair.
The Beauty Mark: Blonde curls and sculpted, disco-redux makeup
In the annals of rock groupies, Nancy Spungen was as legendary as she was tragic. Paramour of Sid Vicious—the hell-raising, drug-abusing bassist for the Sex Pistols—the ill-fated pair would come to be known simply as Sid and Nancy (which was also the title of the previously mentioned 1986 biopic with Courtney Love in a supporting role). The pair’s tumultuous two-year relationship was punctuated by violence, abuse, and a whole lot of heroin. It would end with Nancy’s death, at age 20, from a stab wound she received while at the Chelsea Hotel; Vicious was charged (though alternate theories of the crime abound), but four months later he, too, would die, of a heroin overdose.
Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex
The Beauty Mark: Curly mop and braces
Required Listening: “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!”
Though the late Poly Styrene would give us only one magnificent record (she died of cancer in 2011, at 53), X-Ray Spex’s 1978 Germ Free Adolescents, she is remembered as a singular force in punk music, both for her idiosyncratic music and style. That meant screeching vocals against the backdrop of a swooning saxophone, lyrics with a deep social conscience, and, style-wise, a parade of quirky dresses and all manner of hats to pair with those wild curls—oh right, and braces. “If anybody tried to make me a sex symbol, I would shave my head tomorrow,” she once said.
The Beauty Mark: Crazy dreadlocks
Required Listening: The Slits’ “Typical Girls”
It’s no surprise that Arianna Foster, a.k.a. Ari Up, would form The Slits (with Spanish drummer Paloma Romero, a.k.a. Palmolive) at age 14; after all, The Clash’s Joe Strummer was a frequent visitor to her music-loving household (he taught her how to strum), and her stepdad was Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten. But it wasn’t just straight-up rock that influenced her; the outlandishly dressed and coiffed (check out those dreads) Ari Up also plucked inspiration for The Slits’ unique sound from ska, dub, and reggae. Fitting, then, that she would spend much of the rest of her life raising a family in Jamaica. She sadly died of cancer, at 48, in 2010.
The Beauty Mark: Bangs and red lipstick
Required Listening: X’s “Your Phone’s off the Hook, But You’re Not”
Exene Cervenka and ex-husband John Doe are considered by many to be L.A. punk royalty. The pair, along with Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake, formed X in 1977 and would go on to release a string of beloved punk albums that would help define the local sound. Cervenka’s look—forties dresses, stacks and stacks of jewelry, bitty bangs, and red lipstick—was as magnetic as her sound.
The Beauty Mark: Bleached pixie cut
Required Listening: The Go-Go’s “Tonite”
Before “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” Carlisle was knee-deep in the seventies L.A. punk scene. The moon-faced blonde with a bleached pixie and outrageous style sensibility (think DIY trash-bag dresses) sang backup vocals for local punk outfits, with the name Donna Rhea, then drummed for the Germs as Dottie Danger, before adopting the stage name Belinda Carlisle and starting what would become one of the most noteworthy pop-punk bands ever, the Go-Go’s.
The Beauty Mark: Bangs and a swinging half-ponytail
Required Listening: Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”
The reigning queen of the riot-grrrl movement, Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill (the band she founded with Tobi Vail in 1990) always put their politics center stage, singing loudly about women’s issues that normally never reach the mic—not to mention handing out third-wave feminist zines at shows. Hanna, who often hit the stage in girly getups, her hair in a ponytail, and, sometimes, with incendiary words Sharpied across her body, gave impassioned performances that made—and still make—her the subject of some serious lady hero worship.