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Vivienne Westwood for Moda Operandi PUNK collection

The Costume Institute's PUNK show at the Met continues to be a source of quite interesting contrasts and, well, let's just call them contradictions. Today, show sponsor Moda Operandi, which sells high-end runway clothing before it hits retail, released its punk boutique collection. The exclusive collection includes over 100 items, including new pieces from designers Balmain, Eddie Borgo, Thom Browne, Givenchy, House of Waris, Moschino, Prabal Gurung, Rodarte, and Vivienne Westwood—plus rare vintage fashion and art objects, many of them exclusive. Shredded T-shirts, Germs LPs, Patti Smith photos, even a faux mohawk are on offer. Prices range from $100 to $13,000. Are you annoyed, excited? Not sure?

“The enduring appeal of punk’s avant-garde ideology is that it inspires designers across the spectrum of design sensibility,” said Lauren Santo Domingo, Co-Founder of Moda Operandi. “Each designer has created pieces for this capsule collection that expresses their unique vision of punk’s rebellious spirit.”  

On the critical side, some might say this is punk drained of any rebellious content or context, and presented purely as consumable, expensive, designer-associated fashion. They'd say high price tags and punk-by-elites goes against the very foundations of the subculture.

What right has high-end fashion and online retailing to stake its claim on punk, anyway? Perhaps no right at all, but in an age where continued  relevance is everything, there will always be savvy, if faintly ridiculous, attempts to plant high-end designer flags in unclaimed territory.

On the plus side, we tend to give highly artistic fashion designers—many of whom slogged it out on the fringes before making it big—the benefit of the doubt. One can't deny that the looks from Westwood, Gurung, and Givenchy wouldn't exist without punk inspiration.

And it is somewhat reassuring to know that the elites don't quite get the PUNK show theme, and Monday's gala looks might actually be a trainwreck of badly managed style. The ultimate punk revenge?

At the end of the day, the "Chaos to Couture" collection highlights an issue that's been ever-present since '77. Putting "punk" in the same sentence as "high price tag" always has a hollow ring to it, and yet punk still looks (and sounds) great after all these years.

Visit modaoperandi.com to browse the PUNK collection.

Lee Hunter Black Stadium 733 P-Bass Electric Guitar Signed by the Ramones


Patti Smith Kneeling photo by Lloyd Ziff

Search & Destroy fanzine

Limited Edition Blue Logan Punk Playing Cards


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.