Whenever I’m invited to a fancy dress party, my heart sinks a little – particularly when it’s a really obscure/faffy/unflattering theme. I’m just too lazy and stingy to bother putting together a decent costume, also when I go out I like to look, y’know, nice, not ridiculous.
This is how I imagine many of the celebrities and fashion folk felt when this year’s invitation to the Costume Institute’s gala dropped onto their doormats with the theme of 2013’s exhibition being Punk: Chaos to Couture.
The Costume Institute exhibition at New York’s Met Museum is always launched with a glittering party, known as the Met Ball – it’s become the Oscars of the fashion world, with designers dressing their favourite muses and accompanying them up the red carpeted-stairs to a fancy dinner which is followed by a performance from a musical superstar or two.
Attendees usually dress to match the theme of the exhibition – in previous years we’ve had Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (2012) and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity (2010 – I went to the exhibition and it was amazing.) But something about this year’s punk theme made me cringe a little and judging by some of the efforts of the guests to ‘interpret’ it, they struggled as much as I do when having to attend the aforementioned fancy dress parties.
I think it’s because, fundamentally, fashion and punk make uneasy bedfellows, their ideologies at odds with each other. Punk in its truest sense is anti-fashion – torn up binbags fastened together with safety pins were originally meant as a big “F-YOU” to the world of consumerism, conspicuous consumption and fancy frocks that fashion represented.
Of course you had Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren with their ‘SEX’ shop on the Kings Road, which acted as a hub for London’s emerging punk scene (this is where John Lydon metamorphosed into Johnny Rotten) and there have been designers with that anarchic punk attitude – Alexander McQueen and John Galliano being the most obvious. But still...
Watching the world’s most beautiful women gliding up the red carpet in 21st century, luxurious, couture versions of ‘punk’ costume jarred with me, and I wasn’t alone. The hashtag #notpunk was in common use on Twitter as the pictures emerged, with observers wincing every time a model struck an enthusiastic ‘devil horns’ pose (arghh, that’s metal not punk!) or loaded on the eyeliner to seem a bit more edgy. It just... didn’t feel right.
Sure, there was plenty of latex and PVC, safety pins aplenty, fishnets, zips, studs, chains, bits of bondage and the odd Mohawk (props to SJP and Philip Treacy for their efforts on that front), but all ever so slightly in the manner of a suburban am-dram society putting on their annual tarts and vicars party.
Which isn’t to say many people didn’t look amazing – they totally did, especially host Rooney Mara in Givenchy, Sophia Coppola in silver Marc Jacobs pyjamas, Pixie Geldof and Cara Delevingne in Burberry. Just, well, #notpunk.
Punk was not my era, although I did go through a second-wave punk phase in my teens (Rancid, NOFX etc.) but I think if I had been really into the music of the time I might have felt a bit miffed at seeing it being appropriated in such a cheesy way. It’s the same feeling of cringe I get when designers ‘go grunge’ with pieces of clothing costing thousands of pounds – it’s a little obscene and a LOT try-hard.
The exhibition itself looks fascinating, but purely for the clothes themselves – fantastical creations which you could argue carry the spirit of punk, but I’d prefer to enjoy for their intrinsic beauty and craftsmanship, freeing them from any tenuous associations with a particular subculture or zeitgeist. Sometimes, clothes are just clothes and that’s ok.
On a side note, there’s another exhibition at the Met right now which is really unmissable – Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity. If you happen to be going to NYC this month go see it – my review’s here!
Punk is subversive, anti-establishment – and it burned out very quickly, but still everyone wants a piece of that anarchic spirit to lend edge to whatever they’re doing. Fashion’s always been fascinated with the visual details of the punk movement, as well as the attitude and I think it was the latter that they were trying to argue mattered last night – doing whatever the hell you wanted, not caring what anyone thinks.
So to follow that argument to its logical conclusion you would have to say that the most punk person at the Met last night was Kim Kardashian in her floral Givenchy number complete with matching gloves. Wooo! Go Kim!
Are you a fancy dress fanatic? What's your favourite theme? And who was your best-dressed at the Met Gala?