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Anarchy In the Met

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“Fashion has lost its edge,” said curator Andrew Bolton at a preview of the Met’s upcoming 2013 Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibition yesterday morning. The statement was in response to a query about why the Met chose to explore the rebellious seventies subculture at this particular time. “Punks were so brave and noble. I just think fashion needs an injection of that at the moment,” the curator told Style.com.

If the garments that joined Bolton on the podium during his introduction to the exhibition (looks from McQueen, Chanel, and Rodarte among them) were any indication, punk has been fighting its way into fashion for quite some time—since Zandra Rhodes’s slash- and safety-pin-infused 1977 “Conceptual Chic” collection, to be exact. The new show, explained Bolton, is a prequel to the Met’s 2006 Anglomania and will examine punk as an aesthetic, rather than an attitude. “Punk smashed every convention,” he said. “It prized originality, authenticity, and individualism.” While counterintuitive, these qualities, he said, put punk on the same, or at least a very similar, plane as couture.

Naturally, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren played an instrumental role in creating and popularizing the classic punk look in the seventies via their London shop, SEX. In order to examine the inception of punk, their store, as well as CBGB—the birthplace of New York punk—will be “faithfully re-created” in the exhibition. But the interaction between contemporary couture and authentic punk looks (by Westwood and others) will also be a focus. “Different galleries will be organized to show a particular punk DIY aesthetic, whether it’s hardware, trash, rips and tears, etc.,” said Bolton. “And in the galleries, we’ll show original garments interacting with couture examples.” We got a taste of this at the preview: A 1977 Westwood bondage Parachute shirt was shown next to a 2006 Dior gown by Galliano with remarkably similar details (left). “It’s amazing to see Galliano’s work up there next to Westwood’s,” said Riccardo Tisci, one of the May 6 Met Ball’s co-chairs (along with Anna Wintour, Lauren Santo Domingo, and Rooney Mara). A studded jacket from Givenchy’s Fall 2008 collection will be displayed in the exhibition and, on this occasion, was set on the stage next to Gianni Versace’s iconic safety-pin dress (yes, the one Elizabeth Hurley filled out in 1994). “Gianni Versace is a huge inspiration and has been an icon in my career. Seeing that is really emotional for me,” said Tisci, adding that for him punk means “freedom.”

So does Bolton think that any of punk’s authenticity and DIY spirit remains in contemporary fashion? “In terms of street style, it still happens in Tokyo, and it’s still vibrant in London,” he said. “But I think it’s exciting that people are interested in punk again. Through fashion, you can transform yourself and make these grand political statements; subvert the mainstream. I want to remind people how brave and heroic fashion can be.”

Punk: Chaos to Couture will be on display at The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from May 9 through August 11, 2013.

Photo:Joe Schildhorn /BFAnyc.com

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Dept. of Culture