Sunday, May 12, 2013

Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last week we had a rare treat and privilege when we attended the press preview of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new blockbuster show: Punk: Chaos to Couture. For an hour, members of the press, dazzled, delighted, and sometimes puzzled, wandered through the exhibition taking pictures of the mannequins and each other. After we'd whetted our appetites with the visual feast, we gathered in the sunny atrium on the first floor for a reception and press conference.

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine was front and center in the first row. Her honey-colored bob was unmistakable. Both she personally and her employer Conde Nast are major supporters of the Costume Institute and are instrumental in the success of this fundraising effort.

In the 1970s, Punk was so much more than a fashion statement. In Britain, it was a reaction to sky-high unemployment, to the Thatcher administration's closing of the mines, and to the pervasive feeling of hopelessness. Andrew Bolton, the British curator of the show, talked about how that political tinderbox could never be recreated today, although the fashions could be referenced and reworked.

An event of this size attracts everyone in the fashion world. (Eagle-eyed readers may already have spotted Rose Hartman in the opening photo. We frame her face between us, totally by accident. In case you don't know who Rose Hartman is, you should take a look at her website. The home page features the iconic photo of Bianca Jagger astride a white horse in Studio 54. Yes, Rose took that.) Among many others, we saw Suzy Menkes, head fashion reporter and editor of the International Herald Tribune, a fixture at these events. Her hairdo is her signature.

We were amazed to see Mauricio and Roger Padilha again, whom we'd met at FIT at their presentation on their book about fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez. They thanked us for our blog posting about the event. They have loaned a Stephen Sprouse outfit to the show (scroll down for that) and were excited about viewing the display.

We ran into our friend Sandy Long and her friend, a reporter from Palm Beach.

At the end of the reception, Anna Wintour and Riccardo Tisci, designer for House of Givenchy and co-chair of the gala, walked up the aisle past us. Although she was moving too quickly for us to get a good shot, she did say "Hi" to us. (She had to be speaking to us. Since we were in the last row, there wasn't anyone behind us.)

Riccardo Ticci returned to the atrium for press interviews and greeted style icon Zandra Rhodes. Ms. Rhodes was honored at the exhibition because she was the first designer to incorporate the punk aesthetic into a couture collection. Two of her pieces from that show were in the exhibition.

Besides trading thoughts on the show, Jean and Zandra chatted about Advanced Style (all three of us have been featured), about the positive qualities of black nails, and about how hard it is to wear high heels. When we admired her red, peep-toed skyscraper shoes, Zandra confessed that she carried a big bag in which to stow her heels after she switched into flats.

Here's a closeup of her necklaces. We figure she handpainted at least the one with her signature squiggles on it.

When Jean asked to photograph her rings and manicure, Zandra grabbed Jean's coat to provide a black background for the shot. The mark of a professional is thinking of everything, down to the smallest details.

We also met Donna Dove, a very stylish FIT alumna.

And we were introduced to Hanne, originally from the Netherlands, who was sporting a wonderful pair of leather trousers and a veiled hat.

We had some time to spare, so we went back to have a second look at the exhibition. The rooms thronged with people the full three hours we were there. We took a lot of pictures, but first we thought you might enjoy some of the photos from the press kit, taken when there was nobody there - before the labels had even been installed - so you could get a better feel for the rooms and the layout.

Here's the entryway. The video on the wall depicts a Sex Pistols video.

Because New York's CBGB's is so inextricably tied to the punk movement, the Metropolitan rigged up this faithful recreation of the club's men's bathroom, decorated in deepest punk.

In the same vein but on the other side of the pond, the London shop Seditionaries, brainchild of Vivienne Westwood and the late Malcolm McLaren (also manager of the Sex Pistols) is recreated here in what the Museum calls, tongue-in-cheek, The King's Road Period Room.

This long hallway, lined with a variety of designers' interpretations of punk and presided over here by Sid Vicious, begins with the punk dress seen round the world at front left. This Gianni Versace creation, worn by Elizabeth Hurley when she accompanied Hugh Grant to the opening of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is said to have launched Hurley's modeling career.

These paint-spattered gowns are Dolce & Gabbana designs.

The blackened walls look like a cross between a church and a blast furnace.

These post-punk designs were placed in front of neon lighting with a punk rallying cry.

This "God Save The Queen" shirt is one of the singular examples of punk clothing. Designed by British designers Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, and Jamie Reid, the cotton muslin shirt has become iconic.

In front of a recreation of her original shop, Vivienne Westwood's image in the "God Save The Queen" shirt flashed on the black and white television set.

This "Tits" tee-shirt is an example from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's Seditionaries collections from 1976-1980.

Mindful that we often forget to photograph ourselves, this time we imposed on a passerby and posed in front of a lineup of punk tee-shirts.

Examples of the colorful plaid and knit clothing designed by Westwood and McLaren.

Footage of Johnny Rotten of "The Sex Pistols" played on a big screen at one end of the main gallery.

This House of Givenchy outfit by Riccardo Ticci from 2009-2010 definitely shows its punk, British influences. At the press conference, it was noted that punk has been the longest lasting and most widely dispersed fashion trend ever.

A closeup of the ivory cashmere felt jacket with gold metal studs, silver crystals with gold metal studded chain, simultaneously highlighting and inverting punk principles.

Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons' Spring/Summer 2013 collection.

White platform oxfords from Comme des Garçons.

Valerie is in silhouette in front of the image of Sid Vicious of "The Sex Pistols". (If you look closely, you can see the outline of her squid earrings.)

Menswear designer Thom Browne, newly-famous famous for Michelle Obama's 2013 inaugural parade outfit, takes a turn at a punk look.

Hamish Bowles from Vogue was interviewed in the main gallery of the exhibition.

Perhaps one of our favorites was this safety pin dress and gloves from Moschino's Autumn/Winter 2009-20010 collection.

The dress featured black Swiss dot tulle embroidered with silver metal safety pins, crystal beds and faceted rings.

The safety pins at the wrist and nails are wonderfully unexpected accents.

This Ann Demeulemeester dress from Spring/Summer 2000 is made of white cotton and silk knit with black silk tulle embroidered with lack seed-bead test from Patti Smith's "Woolgathering": "He did turn to wave as I ran and his open eyes caught mine."

We love how the handles of the plastic bags are used on this body suit made of white plastic bags.

This Stephen Sprouse circa 1983 dress was loaned for the show by Mauricio and Roger Padilha. The sheath dress is made of red silk organdy with black graffiti motifs embroidered with clear sequins. The stockings are red nylon knit printed with black graffiti.

This Vivienne Westwood creation from her Spring/Summer 2006 collection is surprisingly topical. It features a white cotton teeshirt printed with a red heart and black text saying "I AM NOT A TERRORIST. Please don't arrest me."

This Rodarte dress from a recent 2009-2010 collection harkens back to a punk vibe.

This is the first full room after the CBGB re-creation grabs your attention.

Everybody gets into the act, even the designers you least expect. This is a recent Calvin Klein creation, in what appears to be industrial felt, and a close-up of the material.

We loved the Garth Pugh variety of trash bag dresses. In the background at the left are two Moschino trash bag dresses.

Here is a close-up of one of the Gareth Pugh dresses. This would have been very labor intensive, but the visual effect is wonderful.

Here is a close-up of one of the Moschino dresses. The message - or one of the messages - seems to be that any material can be made to be interesting and chic.

Three Alexander McQueen creations. Based on bubble wrap and trash bags, they are actually made of silk and synthetic fiber.

Vivienne Westwood does a wonderful gown in random fonts that calls to mind the Sex Pistols' album NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE'S THE SEX PISTOLS.

This Westwood creation is a textile version of graffiti.

As are these Westwood boots.

While Jean and Valerie go through their polka dot phase, it's impossible for us not to take an interest in this Yohji Yamamoto creation with the punk version of polka dots. Some are holes, some are leather add-ons.

We have to end the same way the exhibition ended, with this Margiela creation on a mannequin giving the punk salute. Don't be offended - we weren't!

Our advice: go! And dress for the occasion. Rip your shirt!

Valerie is wearing: red hat of woven paper by United Nude, beaded squid earrings by Nepinka (Etsy), unlabeled bolero jacket, faux graffiti, faux punk tee shirt by H&M, Comme des Garcons pants, Nicole shoes.

Jean is wearing: black cotton turban by Amy Downs; Eileen Fisher harem pants; Kyodan jacket; black and white creepers from Trash and Vaudeville; charm necklace; silver plated safety pin bracelet circa 1983; Creepsville skull bracelet from Trash and Vaudeville; skull earrings from street vendor; red leather cross-body bag; Junya Wantanabe for Comme des Garcons for Puma coat.


  1. I really want to get to NYC to see this in person but it probably won't happen so thank you for this post. So jealous about you meeting Zandra! She's the coolest.

  2. Your posts are always so thorough! Many thanks! xxoo

  3. I too am jealous that you got to meet Zandra! The Gareth Pugh trash bag dresses are so cool - I wonder if I could whip up one of those in an afternoon?? This post will have to substitute for being able to see the exhibit in person. The Ramones song "I Wanna Be Sedated" was on repeat in my head while I was looking at the photos.

  4. Spectacular in every way possible!

  5. The Calvin Klein Dress in which the material you see as industrial felt is hand made hand felted fabric by artisan designer Taiana Design!

    1. We stand corrected, and most happily so! As wearers and promoters of hand made felt, we recommend that readers and fellow lovers of felt take a look at

  6. Great to see anything about the punk era. Really takes me back to when I lived in London. Just have to pick you up on one small thing. Punk was not a reaction to Thatcherism. Margaret thatcher became PM in 1979. Punk was big in London in 76/77.

  7. Hi, Sue! We felt comfortable writing that because we picked it up at the press conference. Just guessing here, but perhaps 'Thatcherism' is used as a convenient catch-all term for the policies of the period, embodied by Thatcher, if not necessarily started by her. You're right, of course, that punk predates her. Valerie was living in Dallas in '78 and stupidly missed a historic opportunity to see the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom (of all places) in 1978.