Behind Karl Lagerfeld’s bohemian dresses for Chloé, Marisa Berenson‘s sculptural body (the first model to pose nude in VOGUE’s pages, editor’s note), and the cocaine balloons thrown from the balconies of Studio 54, the 70’s are not nearly as glamorous as they seem now.
Still shocked by the murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s gang, powerless in the face of the wars that are still raging, the hippies have already shed their last psychedelic tears before wisely toeing the line. Instability in the Middle East and successive oil shocks signal the definitive end of the post-war boom. Frivolity is over, austerity is becoming widespread. Young people find themselves without jobs, without money and without any prospects. Unconsidered, they then mohawk-style their multicoloured hair, adorn her face with safety pins and reject the society of her elders, making them shake while shouting No Future.
How did what was a deeply popular, if not poor, movement initiate the modern approach to creation? To what does it owe such influence forty years later? In what way can we consider punk as a precursor of contemporary fashion?
Music, clothes and SEX
Punk is defined as much by its style as its sound. It is therefore impossible to approach this subject without mentioning the influence of the Sex Pistols, who crystallize its spirit. Very quickly, they become the soundtrack of the new generation, who adopted their dress code. Wearing the same studded leather jacket as Sid Vicious, she rips her T-shirts while listening to the censored version of God Saves the Queen. Dreams of being able to dress at Vivienne Westwood, creator behind the band’s style…
SEX, her boutique on Kings Road, introduces a new level of provocation into fashion. The front proudly displays its name in three pink letters, a colour that is all over the interior to give the impression of being in a uterus. The windows are opaque, sadomasochistic outfits become the basis of a daily uniform. One revolts against the conventions thanks to its look, never failing to shock. This concept store is a major centre of underground culture, at the intersection of fashion and music.
Thus, if Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren – her companion at the time, manager of the Pistols – did not invent punk per se, they shaped its aesthetics… which have inspired designers since almost as early as the birth of the style itself.
From the sidewalk to the catwalk
Westwood will wait until 1982 before launching into the high spheres of fashion, and found a company worth tens of millions. Thus, in 1977, it is Zandra Rhodes who becomes the first designer to be inspired by this movement for a full fashion show. With her Conceptual Chic collection, she revisits the rebel’s wardrobe through silk and taffeta, creating cocktail dresses in shreds decorated with chains. Bringing the street on the podium, she unknowingly inaugurates the era of couture punk, which has never stopped since.
For 25 years now, Versace has been reinventing his safety pin dress, while McQueen has been harnessing the power of tartan to create an untameable beauty. Moschino dedicates a whole season to bondage, when the Ramoneshang out on all of Hedi Slimane’s mood boards.
Through its questioning of standards, punk is also a pioneer in the antifashion of creators like Rei Kawakubo. The same goes for its sense of reuse, where everyday objects turn into textile materials. In this wake, Gaultier imagines dresses made of garbage bags. Margiela, a jacket made of biros caps. A Do It Yourself spirit introducing the notion of garment deconstruction, proving that its influence goes far beyond just an improbable hairstyle.
Le style de la post-modernité
As every time luxury appropriates a popular movement, its original meaning is necessarily diluted. Sado-masochistic allusions, a form of violence criticism, have become a simple tool of fetishist seduction. However, the essence remains. Punk is based on a rich and identifiable imagery: a torn pair of jeans no longer denounces anything about consumerism, but it echoes the notion of rebellion that we use to bring a controlled negligence to our looks.
Besides, this movement is incredibly modern for its time: women’s rights, recognition of LGBT+, gender identity… A cultural patchwork that does not hesitate to mix references, and reinforces a new relationship to clothing: it is no longer simply a matter of wearing it, or making it a statutory symbol, but fully owning it — even to transform it. A concept that will open the way to other subcultures, from grunge to hip hop.
Fashion therefore sees punk as the extreme form of cool, which in a way embodies everything it would like to represent. Both are finally driven by a deep desire for recognition, for the affirmation of their individuality. As long as we do not know a movement of such magnitude, so innovative from a stylistic point of view, it will remain a major source of inspiration… •