“I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist”, wailed Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, circa 1977. The punk movement was in full swing in the U.K., and not following fashion was in fashion for members of the punk subculture. Leather, chains and spikes dominated the underground scene and for once, being the odd one out had become cool.
The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Kiss and Misfits are the bands that have been credited with launching the punk movement and subsequently giving rise to other sub-genres of rock such as alternative rock and metal. Saying that they’ve made music history is a gigantic understatement, and praises from iconic magazines like Rolling Stone further cement this fact.
But how did a bunch of young, musically-inclined college drop-outs dressed in tattered clothing bellowing words of rebellion give rise to, and influence, one of the biggest music and fashion movements?
Well, when The Man pushes you down, non-conformists decide to rise up and give it back to him. And that’s precisely what the youth in 1970’s Britain did. They picked up their guitars and drumsticks, tore apart their clothing, tried their best to look like the opposite of what was acceptable in polite society, and sang lyrics which sounded a lot like cries of rebellion and anarchy. This shocked people left, right and centre, but these punk rockers’ words and attitudes struck a chord with many. And so, over the course of a few months, streets were brimming with pierced, tattooed young-adults, with spiked hair, leather collars, colourful makeup and an attitude to be reckoned with. Posters of Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux were plastered across the walls and stirs of uprisings could be heard from miles away. Oh, and a dash of heroin pulled it all together.
Punk devotees picked this style up in different ways.
“In London, punk was a class-system based rebellion: the bolder, more shocking, and more disturbing the clothing, the better. Whilst in NYC, the movement was about minimalism and earnest asceticism, take The Ramones for example, who wore staple Americana-inspired tight blue jeans, white tees and black leather jackets” – ‘When the Punk Changed Fashion and Music’, Vogue Italia, August 2017
But, Vivienne Westwood took punk to the forefront. Her interpretation heavily pulled from the fact that it was very do-it-yourself and in your face. The word “over-the-top” didn’t exist, and everything you wore, for her, made a statement. In an era where going even slightly beyond the norm was considered shocking and confrontational, instead of being scared, she pushed herself to take it further, way beyond the boundaries. As a woman, it also reflected an intense period of liberation as well, especially since punk heavily borrowed from a lot of BDSM culture too. Designs from her infamous store ‘SEX’, often worn by The Sex Pistols members, helped punk trickle onto the runway, and soon, bigger designers started picking it up. In fact, even Rei Kawakubo had been known to roam the floors of ‘SEX’, greatly being awed by the deconstructed, layered fetish-store like aesthetics of it. No wonder then, that her 1982 collection called “Destroy” incorporated a lot of elements of distress, shreds, and layers. Flared jeans who?
These punk elements can still be seen in couture and luxury fashion till date. Gianni Versace made Liz Hurley wear a dress held up just by safety pins, Jason Wu’s collections showcased sheer clothing and harness straps, Lanvin put a dress with a photo of bare breasts on the runway, and Riccardo Tisci deconstructed and reconstructed a leather jacket, florals, fur and lace.
“In India, designers tend to put in a lot of punk influences in their embroideries and silhouettes- for example, hoodies, skirts and bomber jackets. On a larger scale, though, I’ve noticed that they drive collections on the concept of rebellion quite often, which of course is derived from punk. They also give a western twist to Indian garments and forms, incorporate a lot of metallics and play with contrast and experimental colour stories too”, said designer Stuti Gupta.
Punk has clearly gone global.
Any and every form of art, especially fashion, reflects the socio-economic-political climate of the time, and clearly has the potential to awaken inspiration and thought in many. For a more contemporary example, one could easily look at Maria Grazia Chiuri’s simple printed t-shirt that proclaimed “We Should All Be Feminists”. Thus, it’s clear that punk has pretty much been about speaking up, doing things the way you want, and it has long provided a gateway for freedom and a sense of individuality.
And it surely doesn’t get more punk than that.
What do you think about the evolution and future of punk in fashion? Let me know in the comments below!