Punk is Dead at the Met

by Kelly Maxwell

I know y’all have seen the ridiculous ass-backwards looks from the red carpet gala at the Costume Institute Ball. I will NOT bore you with talk about how the glitterati got it all WRONG. Punk is not putting a thousand dollars of studs on a three thousand dollar Burburry jacket (I’m looking at you Sienna Miller). If you haven’t seen the pix, check them out here and come back to me laterz.

The Metropolitan Museum is super important and does a great job preserving (high) culture, I am not going to argue against that. What I am going to argue, however, is that the newest installment at the Costume Institute, PUNK: Chaos to Couture, proves that the cultural elite do not understand punk and totally missed the point with their exhibition. If old school punk saw it, it would immediately drop dead and start rolling around in it’s cigarette butt encrusted, safety pinned, and Manic Panicked grave.

The DESTROY Gallery

It is safe to guess that a good chunk of our readers went through a punk stage, so what I’m about to say comes from a great appreciation on the topic. I am typing this while wearing my ancient Doc Martins with a mohawk in my hair. We at BUST are keeping punk in our hearts every time we DIY, throw ourselves around at a show, and just fuck with the status quo. THAT IS PUNK.

Back in the 1970’s, the first punks didn’t have any traditional outlet to express the anger they were feeling, so they made their own. Liberty spikes and mohawks were a reaction to the free flowing locks of the flower power generation and the severe music was a reaction to the polish and glitter of disco. Keeping this in mind, let’s dive into the deep end of the Met’s presentation of Punk.

Left: Joe Strummer of The Clash, 1977. Right: Helmut Lang Fall 2003 Collection.



I would first like to say that Conde Nast, the publishing juggernaut responsible for Vogue, is a driving force behind this event. The aesthetic of Anna Wintour can be seen in everything (just imagine her at CBGB’s), so the gritty, dirty, often ugly side of punk is actively ignored. Because poor people making up their own aesthetic on the cheap is not good enough for the Met. I’d pay a lot to see one of the DIY leather jackets, from a gutter punk back in the day, displayed next to a Comme des Garcons design. Punk is all about authenticity people! The roots of the subculture are displayed in photo form and in the multi-media installations, but the real uniform is not included as “fashion.”

A facsimile CBGB’s bathroom ala 1975. Brought back to life at the freaking Met! Complete authenticity with cigarette butts and filth.

According to the official press release, the exhibition features displays where “a few (emphasis added) iconic punk garments from the mid-1970s are juxtaposed with recent, directional fashion to illustrate how haute couture and ready-to wear have borrowed punk’s visual symbols, with paillettes being replaced with safety pins, feathers with razor blades, and bugle beads with studs…the exhibition is organized around the materials, techniques, and embellishments associated with the anti-establishment style.”

Looks by Gianni Versace. The dress on the Left was worn by Elizabeth Hurley at the “Four Weddings and a Funeral” Premiere

I want to take a moment to talk about the pretty things at the exhibit. There are some pieces that are amazing to look at. I could look at Rodarte and Viktor & Rolf designs all day. These looks are beautiful works of inspired couture, but if the exhibit claims to be presenting the complete punk, to explore how the couture was inspired, then they failed. The Met values history, but in this exhibit, the history of punk was swept under the rug, almost an after thought. According to the official press release, “Since its origins, punk has had an incendiary influence on fashion,” said Andrew Bolton,Curator in The Costume Institute. “Although punk’s democracy stands in opposition to fashion’s autocracy, designers continue to appropriate punk’s aesthetic vocabulary to capture its youthful rebelliousness and aggressive forcefulness.” Cool story bro… It would have been nice to see that. BTW, the wigs you decided to slap on all of the mannequins look like body pouf loofahs. I said it.


PUNK: Chaos to Couture is opening May 9th. I encourage you to check it out if you want to experience some real cognitive dissonance. If you can’t attend, read a book about punk- I recommend Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk, listen to an album (turned up to 11!), and put a stud in something. This exhibit has people talking about punk, which is a good thing, but it is up to us BUSTies to make sure that the conversation does not leave out the DIY authenticity we love.   After all, CBGB’s is now a high end John Varvatos store… Punk has come full circle. 

Left: John Lydon aka Johnny Rotton of the Sex Pistols. Left: Junya Watanabe, Fall 2006 Collection.

All images via The Met

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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