Pitchfork   The Dissolve   Festivals: Chicago | Paris
Photo by: Dennis Morris, 1977. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, | Sid Vicious

Photos courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/BFAnyc.com

A new Costume Institute exhibition at New York's Met (lasting 100 days—like the first burst of UK punk—from May 9–August 14, 2013) examines early punk's impact on high fashion. And the irony of highbrow taking note of the influence from below has already made the show fertile ground for derision of the fashion biz and bigtime art museums.

It's also been stirring up a passionate conversation online and in the press on what punk was/is all about. Despite attempts to co-opt it and tame it, to own it or define it, here's evidence that punk still provokes, which was originally a big part of the point, anyway.

For critics of the show, it's easy to make the observation that punk music and culture wasn't about taking over the runway and selling brand-name perfume. But a largely homegrown culture having a significant impact on a commercial one isn't really strange.

There are many aspects of punk, too, that make it a perfect fit for high-end fashion art museums, and the mainstream art consumer. Interest in punk as cultural history has grown from being a critical concern for music heads to a regular literary event with memoirs from people like Patti Smith and Richard Hell. And taking cultural explosions from below seriously is much easier after three-plus decades have passed. Punk music, difficult to find in chain retail shops of the '80s, is but a click away now, so curiosity about it for those that missed it during the vinyl era is bubbling over. Punk, from '77 on, had a design and fashion aspect to it, not to mention a "hype" aspect. Its UK look was formalized in a fetish shop by shady impresario Malcolm McLaren, while its DIY ethic produced powerful graphics in flyer design and an individualized fashion within its own ever-shifting code of outsiderness.

Unfortunately, this leaves us with punk icons in punk iconic clothes that we've all seen before juxtaposed against designer duds that only seem vaguely punk. Odd then, that this show promises more to fashion fanatics—who perhaps haven't seen the way designers deliberately borrow from the Blank Generation look every few years—than it does to music fans.  Somewhat logically, the show concentrates on New York and London where the fashion world and punk scenes were in close proximity, but neglects any other spots where punk made early inroads. The show is organized, rather literally, by fashion techniques: DIY Hardware, DIY Bricolage, DIY Graffiti and Agitprop, DIY Destroy. If one has seen those videos of the Clash spray-painting stencils on their clothes, you've seen fashion history in action, evidently. 

For a good read on punk in the context of the exhibit, see New York magazine's recent cover story which offhandly makes the case that, in terms of fashion, punk won and elitism lost.

Karl Lagerfeld for House of Chanel. Vogue, March 2011. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by David Sims

John Lydon, 1976/ Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Richard Young. Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, 1982. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Peter Lindbergh.

Jordan, 1977. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph from Rex USA.

Rodarte, Vogue, July 2008. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by David Sims.

Richard Hell, late 1970s, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Kate Simon.

Hussein Chalayan 2003, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dazed and Confused, March 2003,Photograph by Eric Nehr.