The Punk in Us
“…though songs had to be its core, part of what was interesting about starting a band was that it entailed so many other means of communication, including clothes.” Richard Hell, once upon a time member of the band Television and a punk icon in his own right once wrote on punk and its many lanes of influence. Punk’s fashion influence is vast, spreading from shuttered brands like John Galliano, legendary designers like Martin Margiela to menswear staples like Number (N)ine and Undercover, punk’s influence can be seen in each red/black mohair sweater to band t’s at Urban Outfitters. Sonically, punk was born from bands like The Stooges and Velvet Underground, and gained traction in the clubs like OMFUG and CBGB’s with folks like Patti Smith and The Ramones bashing cords through the speakers. Depending on who you ask the aesthetic of punk is debated ground, but the sound, the feel, the persona of punk was born in New York and expanded upon in London.
A Brief History
Richard Hell in his article “‘Punk’ Couture: Insides Out” speaks on the beginnings of punk in New York during 1973-74. For the young Americans, punk was about the art, although it was politically implicated, the New York music and style wasn’t politically oriented. Hell wanted to emulate who he was, the life he lived with the poetic angst of post-war US entrenched in Vietnam. It wasn’t until Malcolm McClaren soaked up the feelings of disenfranchised youth, their style and sound, and shipped it over to the UK that punk became politically charged and stylistically extravagant. The UK youth was dealing with the old world systems of Royalty and Nobility while facing economic downturn. The tattered dishevelled style of the US exploded in the UK giving way to punk motifs the world has come to know; safety pins, studded leather jackets, army cargos repurposed to bondage pants, torn t’s with loud graphics.
Westwood and McClaren’s: Street Style to High Fashion
The New York scene was a subdued aesthetic, look to The Ramones; black or blue skinnies, white trainers, leather jacket and a tattered too-small t-shirts. Richard Hell was similar but added calculated safety pins to close holes, or to attach a torn silk button up in the middle of his chest. This was the style McClaren brought back to the UK, that him and Westwood would improve upon at 430 King’s Road Chelsea. Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die, or Seditionaires and perhaps most famously SEX, the shop where McClaren and Westwood would solidify the iconoclastic London punk style existed under many names.
The UK punks were politically focused, Westwood produced torn t’s that boasted Queen Elizabeth with a safety pin through her mouth. Even more so locally rooted, the garbage strikes in the UK led some punks to sporting garbage and grocery bags, consciously referencing the public and private sector strikes of essential but overlooked public servants. Where New York punks were focused on returning to a specific Rock’n’Roll sound, London youths were geared towards dismantling their government, rebelling against the ‘man’ and fucking the system. The Sex Pistols were the exact representation of the youthful disdain for the traditional world they occupied. The bands album “Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” would come to be one of the most censored and banned records in the country. The volatile energy they brought to London would eventually be the source of the band’s demise, but there message was heard loud and clear and carried on into the 80s after their dissolution. It’s this London style that would shape the fashion world for years to come and influence what and how we wear clothes to this day.
From Chaos to Couture
Andrew Bolton’s exhibit Punk: Chaos to Couture defines four stylistic aspects of punk, all circling around a d.i.y. attitude. Punks used hardware, graffiti and agitprop, bricolage and garment destruction to communicate their stylistic and political stance against the norm of the 70s. They abandoned the bellbottoms and ‘love will prevail’ attitude of the 60s with a distinct aversion to anything asides from anarchy and destruction. As the Sex Pistols disbanded Westwood and McClaren would start to go their separate ways but not before Westwood’s 1981 collection. Pirates would take London Fashion Week by storm, birthing a new vision of Fashion against the glitz, gold and glamour of the Versace’s and Yves Saint Laurent shows of the era. By the 80s punk was starting to seep into the mainstream, Richard Hell remembers seeing torn shirts on mannequins in the Macy’s windows by late 70s, but the clothes were never enough to fit in with the crowd. This appropriation would continue in High Fashion. John Galliano’s debut show out of Central St Martins and the rest of his 80s shows were very much in the dishevelled spirit of Vivienne Westwood with an emphasis on femininity.
In the emerging Menswear scene of the 90s, punk was an important persona, not just a look. Raf Simons perfectly embodied the sentiment of a dejected youth, as he seems to always do. His ’97 collection, already discussed on the website, portrayed the perfect amount of visual references as well as the energy of punk (Not to mention the iconic ‘Generations’ tank). His ’98 collection Black Palms builds on his post-punk universe. With loose see-through knits, black t-shirt with the anarchy symbol right in the middle, and of course the Sex Pistols top. Raf’s use of patchwork in Riot x3 would come to be known as a motif of the brand that portrayed the punk d.i.y agitprop and patchwork found everywhere in the punk scene. Raf’s interpretation of punk for high fashion is a more obvious approach to punk and fashion, best seen in his A/W 2003/04 collection in collaboration with Peter Saville. As punk moved away from the mainstream, the dilution of the aesthetic continued.
Jun Takahashi of Undercover is a designer who embodied punk through persona. Specifically Undercover’s A/W 2004 show that did away with the graphic overload and chose to emulate a silhouette, a person. The show’s boho grunge vibe is a direct reference to Patti Smith and the clothes actually in her wardrobe. Patti Smith was never in head to toe studded leather, or safety pins galore, her punk was her person, her identity. Takahiro Miyashita’s Touch Me I’m Sick, named after a Mudhoney song, a contemporary of Nirvana, saw Kurt Cobain’s wardrobe walk the runway. The red/black mohair sweater, that has been made and emulated thousands of times over, Patchwork jeans with tattered knees, and wide eyed glasses that Playboi Carti revitalized just a few years back. Specifically, Takahashi and Miyashita capture the American punk aesthetic through their Americana lens. Both Undercover and Number (N)ine have their graphic staples with bands and punk personas printed on t’s or coats, but their subtle approach to punk best emulates the laid back style of the States. Versus designers like Westwood, Galliano, and Margiela’s aggressive and theatrical adaptation of destruction, deconstruction and d.i.y.-ing.
The Punk in All of us
Punk can be seen all throughout the fashion zeitgeist, ushered in to big houses by Galliano at Dior, or Nicholas Ghesqiuère at Balenciaga, Hedi Slimane anywhere he goes. But punk is also in those well removed from the immediate sphere of fashion’s pastiches, as it was always meant to be. Taking scissors to your thrifted tee and patching it back up with safety pins, gashing gaping wholes in the knees of your levi’s or even letting it happen naturally. Socially, there will always be room for punk, as the world gets hotter and history seems to repeat itself over and over and…. The rebellion against the norm that never cared about us will always be alive. A majority of the designers on Akaibu are either punk forerunners or deeply impacted by the music, the style and the way of life punks ushered into pop culture half a century ago. Where some say punk is dead I argue that it’s very much alive, living, breathing and transforming under the surface until the right call to action. So until then, get fitted and get ready, and remember “Be reasonable, demand the impossible”.
Playboi Carti in (Vivienne WestWood Seditionaries "Destroy" Shirt)
Written by: Noah Holder