chaos to couture: a retrospective.

Jul 18, 2013

"Punk is about revolting against a society that doesn't think you deserve a revolution." 
The connection between punk and high-fashion runs deep within the realm of the fashion industry; punk's influence on the fashion world dates back to the 1970's and the movement, which has both a social + political appeal, as well as a design + art factor, can still be seen in looks on the runway today. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, has recognized and masterfully depicted punk fashion in their latest fashion exhibition, which I was lucky enough to see. Honestly, the form of "punk" fashion is not particularly to my taste of style, but basking in the atmosphere of punk couture made me realize that, like fashion itself, there was depth running beneath every stitch of fabric. Punk, for its time, was revolutionary and iconic, and continues to be a provocative form of fashion today. The portrayal of punk was executed brilliantly; the retrospective displayed the historical factors behind the fashion, and simultaneously, the irresistible energy and terrifying yet terrific vibe.  
Let me start off this post by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, though critics evidently didn't. After doing hours of research, I discovered that there are many substantial reasons that esteemed journalists found flaws in the concept and delivery of the retrospective. However, there were different audiences that took different things away from the exhibition, and I was someone who did not find much to criticize. To me, the biggest (and perhaps only) issue was the severe disparity between the ambiance of the Met and the exhibition itself. Throughout the museum, you find magnificent works of art and pieces of history and culture, while Chaos to Couture was certainly more bold and modern. Other than that, though, its purpose was fulfilled: to shine light on this part of fashion which are so important in cities like London and New York but often go unrecognized. Moving on to the exhibition itself – there were 7 parts to it, each revolving around the concept of "D.I.Y". This idea is very central to punk, as it is all about identity and individualism
The exhibition was split into four sections, specific to D.IY.: hardware, bricolage, graffiti + agitprop and destroy. For the majority of the retrospective (which, despite seemingly negative reviews from critics, was completely full of people) we were taken through the different aspects of punk and it was evident that it can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways. Hundreds of work from many different designers and brands were included, such as Dolce & Gabanna, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Karl Lagerfeld, Victor and Rolf, Versace, Givenchy and more. Of course, the queen of punk fashion, Vivienne Westwood, dominated a large portion of the exhibition with her many risqué designs. Therefore, there seemed to be a distinct contrast between the sorts of designers whose clothes were put on display. Since creations from sophisticated, luxury designers such as Lagerfeld and Prada were shown, along with designers who had punk style running through the veins of their clothing at all times, one thing is clear: the magnitude of punk's influence is immensely significant. 
Gianni Versace Spring/Summer 2004
No matter which part of the exhibition was witnessed, some things were truly consistent, including the eclectic porcupine-style hair done in a palette of neon tones. Whether it was a part of the grafitti section or the "destroy" clothes, the wonderfully-weird hair was always seen. One of the most enthralling concepts that was shown was the idea of "hardware" being incorporated into punk fashion. The wonderful part of it is that it is ordinary items – even everyday tools – that are being masterfully placed onto couture dresses. Think studs, spikes, safety pins, padlocks, and keys – all of which are morphed into a stunning and primary aspect of punk. In regard to safety pins especially, Vivienne Westwood said, "The safety pins definitely had an analogy in Third-World culture." This plays with the idea of social issues that punks wanted to speak out about. English designer Zandra Rhodes is largely associated with the punk movement, with her safety-pin dresses being one of the first to make it to the commercial side of fashion. The merging of commercial fashion and the punk movement caused an influx of awareness and made punk's influence all the more substantial. One of the reasons that it is most vital to the theory of punk itself is the contrast between these items and fashion as a whole. Punk, in a way, is ironic through its bold and evocative message and the execution of its message. 
In London and New York City, throughout the late 1970's, people searching for expression and a movement to present their feelings in the ideal way, turned to fashion to do so. Historically speaking, "London's punks" were known to be teenagers full of angst, anger and a need to announce their discontent in a supremely recognizable way. The movement was in tune with the events that were occurring in their home-towns and around the world – war, recession, and forms of social injustice. American photographer Sheila Rock (who has been based in Britain since 1970) has witnessed the spread of punk in its birthplace. She agrees that it was provoked by the events which were taking place in Britain at the time. "Some people think of punk as being downbeat. But to me, and to many others, it was a celebration of something exciting and positive." Using both fashion and music, (bands like the Sex Pistols were supplying the punk phenomenon with even more excitement and electricity), punk became a part of society itself in this time period. It is remarkable that such a relevant part of history was channelled through the element of fashion
An interesting aspect of the exhibition was the intertwining of different brands' work. Curators selected pieces from the founders of punk, which meant iconic, almost obnoxious fashion from the 70's and 80's; and simultaneously included modern-day collections from designers such as Christopher Kane, Moschino, Gareth Pugh, and Burberry. These new-age designers have been inevitably and evidently shaped by punk fashion from the past. However, critics were concerned with the credibility of these designs, which happen to be on the "trendier" and more commercial side, as opposed to fashion with a purpose and with true emotion, as punk was in its earlier days. Though this is a supremely valid point, audiences do not fail to recognize that the influence of punk did not go unseen. In the photographs below, all the designs show a distinct blend between old and new fashion.
As I mentioned previously, punk is somewhat of a foreign type of fashion for me and I was almost indifferent to it all together. The greatest part of this exhibition is that is revealed the beauty and undiscovered importance of a movement that continues to fuel designers today. Punk was not just developed due to a changing time period and a need for expression; it is a constant reminder of many social issues and factors that needed to be addressed and some which still do. It exists as much in the real world as it does in the fashion world, and this retrospective did the remarkable task of separating the runway from reality. 



  1. Thanks for sharing these fantastic pictures.


  2. Girl those photos rock. And you're only 15!? Get out. You are stunning and are an excellent writer. Keep it up!



  3. I've never really been a huge fan of punk fashion but after seeing this post, my views have changed quite a bit! The dresses and gowns are so gorgeous and this is a great review.

    I have a new post up on my blog, and would love it if you could check it out!


  4. This must have been such an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!

  5. so impressive thanks for sharing :)

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  6. Great post Meera, your writing is excellent as always! I'm like you in the sense that I'm pretty much indifferent to punk as it's not really my thing, but its historical and cultural significance when placed in the contexts of the cities it originated in prove that it's been, and will continue to be, a massive influence on the creative industry.


  7. Really amazing exhibition! xxx

  8. Wow, nice post! Great pics.

  9. hi Meera, thanks for visiting me! i have to say i've got such a soft spot for punk + new wave. it's the era i grew up in so it holds special meaning and i got to see a similar exhibition in NYC way back called AngloMania. it was FAB and so is this one you've shared!!

    such a well written, thought provoking piece. you've covered all the bases, from the sociological to many underlying messages this movement brought with it. bravo! ♥

  10. This looks like an amazing exhibition!

  11. Would love to visit this place, seems so interesting

  12. WOW! Lovely pics and place!

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