‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’ Exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has unveiled ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’, an exhibition that focuses on the impact of the Punk movement on fashion from its heyday in the 1970s through today by displaying approximately 100 designs for men and women within their social and geographic contexts and how they influenced future generations. As such, a few iconic punk garments from the mid-1970s are juxtaposed with recent, directional fashion (by designers such as Thom Browne, Hussein Chalayan, Ann Demeulemeester, John Galliano, Nicolas Ghesquière, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen and Yohji Yamamoto, to name a few) to illustrate how haute couture and ready-to-wear have borrowed punk’s visual symbols.

Focusing on the relationship between the punk concept of ‘do-it-yourself’ and the couture concept of ‘made to measure,’ the exhibition is organised around the materials, techniques, and embellishments associated with the anti-establishment style. Each of the exhibition’s seven galleries has footage of designated punk ‘heroes’ who embody the broader concepts behind the designs on view.

The first gallery is devoted to CBGB in New York City, represented by Blondie, Richard Hell, The Ramones and Patti Smith. Opposite is a gallery inspired by Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaries boutique at 430 King’s Road in London, and between the two is Clothes for Heroes, embodied by a slow motion video of Jordan. This gallery examines designers who extend the visual language of punk, as it was originally articulated by McLaren and Westwood, by merging social realism with artistic expression.

Do-it-yourself, punk’s enduring contribution to high fashion, is explored in the four final galleries: D.I.Y. Hardware, focusing on couture’s use of studs, spikes, chains, zippers, padlocks, safety pins, and razor blades, with Sid Vicious as its icon; D.I.Y. Bricolage, highlighting the impact of punk’s ethos of customization on high fashion, including the use of recycled materials from trash and consumer culture, as epitomized by Wayne County; D.I.Y. Graffiti and Agitprop, exploring punk’s tradition of provocation and confrontation through images and text exemplified by The Clash; and D.I.Y. Destroy, examining the effect of punk’s rip-it-to-shreds spirit, typified by Johnny Rotten, via torn and shredded garments associated with deconstructionism.