Blame Diana Vreeland for all the thrilling fashion exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today.
Not many know that she was the one, who pushed the MET to introduce the fashion within the museum and make it a part of the museum’s special exhibitions to showcase the extraordinary works of some of the finest fashion designers in the world, when no one even thought of doing it at an art museum.
Nevertheless, Vreeland – as many other prominent figures of the fashion industry – brought her passion to the MET, when she was forced to leave America’s Vogue for her extravagant fashion ideas that cost the magazine a fortune. In 1971 she became consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. By 1984, according to Vreeland’s account, she had organized twelve exhibitions that wowed the world.
She was far from being an ordinary fashion editor; she wanted to showcase the art of the fashion, not just the style and trends.
Unlike my generation that didn’t get to see her exhibitions during her times, her legacy has been living through the times to date. Thanks to the MET’s commitment to continue introducing the public to the greatest of the greatest, by telling a story about various fashion trends through the history of how they came around and how they’ve influenced the today’s art, culture and fashion lifestyle of so many people around the world.
In the last few years, the Metropolitan Museum of Art honored the greatest Alexander McQueen, featuring the history of his creations in the exhibition “Savage Beauty” and honoring Miuccia Prada, who took the Prada mega fashion house in 1978. The exhibition was called “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”, which was done through staging some of Prada’s most signature works.
Last May, the MET staged another great exhibition – Spring 2013 Costume Institute exhibition, PUNK: Chaos to Couture that examines punk’s impact on high fashion and society from its birth in the early 1970s through its continuing influence today. The exhibition will be open to the public until August 14, 2013.
The exhibition features more than 100 designs for men and women, including the original punk garments from the earliest designers, trendsetters and street fashion styles, ‘narrated’ through telling the history of how it’s been influencing not only the high fashion runaways but how it’s been influencing the street fashion style and society in general – then and now.
The exhibition will surprise you with the details from the punk culture and fashion industry, most of which you will definitely learn for the first time. Moreover, you will learn how some of the finest fashion designers had adapted and used punk culture to create their modern outfits that most of us would not even think of associating with the punk culture until now.
The exhibition also teaches the relationship between the punk concept “do-it-yourself” and the couture concept of “made-to-measure” through featuring various materials, techniques and moments from other art forms like music and film that influenced the first and current punk fashion creators and aficionados.
The exhibition theme is set around the two major influential cities, where the punk culture originated, grew and spread out – New York City and London, the cities that not only took examples from each other, but the two cities that took the punk culture to the next level.
Punks appropriated objects from the basest of contexts such as tamping, lavatory chains, and favored articles associated with trash. The punk culture in the 70s was about sex or politics.
Vivienne Westwood, the British fashion designer and her partner the impresario Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010) did more than anyone to create the bad-tempered punk look. They were the first ones to introduce punk fashion, as we know it today. Their London shop Let it Rock at 430 Kings Road, which they opened in 1971, was all about how NOT to dress appropriately. Their creations were meant to rebel and confront British society by being as obscene as possible.
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were inspired by and interested in rebellion and in particular 1950s clothing, music and memorabilia. By 1972 the designer’s interests had turned to biker clothing, zips and leather. The shop was re-branded with a skull and crossbones and renamed Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die. Westwood and McLaren began to design t-shirts with provocative messages leading to their prosecution under the obscenity laws; their reaction was to re-brand the shop once again and produce even more hard core images. By 1974 the shop had been renamed Sex, a shop ‘unlike anything else going on in England at the time’ with the slogan ‘rubber-wear for the office’.
Westwood’s punk t-shirts were the ultimate definition of the London punk culture of the 70s and 80s, which fast got adapted and spread out by the New York underground movement. Her t-shirts were the agitprop of that time, saying everything that was not supposed to be said out loud, not to mention – be worn on a t-shirt out in the open. According to Westwood, a t-shirt is the best communicator; it can say all the things that you, sometimes, can’t. And that idea of wearing an important message one believes in (and/or for the entertainment purposes) on a t-shirt has been popular ever since. Now you won’t be able to find a single store that does not have a t-shirt without a message. T-shirts from Urban Outfitters are an example of the ‘modern’ versions of the punk shirts.
Graffiti was another part of the punk fashion: graphic t-shirts and bathroom wall graffiti. The exhibition features a real-size bathroom mock-up from the New York City underground bar of the 70s – cigarette butt-filled, graffiti-scrawled and urine-stained CBGB bathroom, which is the ‘locational’ definition of the punk culture of that time, featuring the engravings of all kinds of ‘punk-related’ cultural references, from music to strong language messaging.
Punk culture is known to promote the ‘do-it-yourself’ and ‘destroy-and-deconstruct’ fashion statement.
Destroy and deconstruct, intentionally or not came to be interpreted politically as symbols of government stagnation and economic deterioration. From Martin Margiela, a Belgian fashion designer, to Miguel Adrover and Hussein Chalayan are among the most well-known socially-aware and politically active designers of today.
Later punk culture has also started to be associated with recycling. Designers like Helmut Lang, Alexander McQueen, and Moschino recycled all elements in formation of the new objects: from trash bags and envelops to scotch tape, pins and zippers.
The exhibition features some of the incredibly interesting creations of Zandra Rhodes, Jun Takahashi, Christopher Kane, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Calvin Klein, Comme des Garçons, Ricardo Tisci, Rosella Jardini, Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, Christopher Bailey and Thomas Browne. Versace, Gucci and D&G have also used punk elements for their couture works. Amazingly enough that most of us saw these creations on the runaways, but, most likely, we didn’t know that they were influenced by the punk culture, such as the ‘safety pin’ dress by Versace that Elizabeth Hurley wore to a film premiere, which was concluded to be one of the 100 influential dresses in the world by Hal Rubenstein in his “100 Unforgettable Dresses”.
Punk was not meant to play nice. Whether in music or attire, it wanted to provoke and offend, disrupt and incite. Good manners, good taste and marketable skills were considered the kiss of death. Metal, pins, violent cut-ups, curse words, sexual and violent graffiti were welcome.
Harlem pants, by the way, were the invention of the punk culture.
Each of the exhibit part is accompanied with very thorough information into the idea behind the trend, as well as enhanced by the multimedia elements of music and videos.
The exhibition was made possible by Moda Operandi with an additional support by Conde Nast.
“Punk: Chaos to Couture” continues through Aug. 14 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org.