This year, Britain celebrates two very different anniversaries. The first is the Queen’s 90th birthday, marked midway through the London menswear schedule by an open-air lunch (held, inevitably, in pouring rain) for 10,000 rain-poncho wearing guests. The second is the fortieth anniversary of punk; the movement which galvanised Britain’s disaffected youth in the mid-Seventies, and has become one of the aesthetic anchors of modern menswear - from Versace to Simons, Margiela to Slimane, and Lang to Gosha Rubchinskiy and beyond.
So, ironically, London is hosting a year-long series of events to mark the anniversary of the sub-cultural storm it once so loudly denounced; in contrast (and in protest), Joe Corré - son of Westwood and McLaren - plans to challenge the movement’s gentrification by burning several million pounds’ worth of punk memorabilia. And somewhere in the middle, as part of LC:M’s launch celebrations, designer Paul Smith hosted an exhibition of the work of Derek Ridgers, one of the original documenters of punk’s genesis. The walls of Smith’s Mayfair store were covered in a black-and-white prints featuring an array of familiar faces - Debbie Harry, Jordan, Adam Ant - shot at now-legendary venues like the 100 Club, the Roxy and the Vortex. Smith, of course, is also one of the few British designers old enough and established enough to remember the summer of ’76 (he was otherwise occupied at the time, with his Paris debut, and the opening of his first store in Covent Garden). But the snarling, sweaty child-adults of Ridgers’ visceral images stood in jarring contrast to the well-mannered, softly civilised clothing on display elsewhere in the boutique - or, for that matter, across the rest of the menswear schedule. So what, if anything, is punk’s real legacy? Is it aesthetics, or attitude?
A photo posted by BOY London (@boylondon) on Jun 15, 2016 at 12:27am PDT
Speaking in the wake their Saturday night presentation, the team behind iconic label Boy London - also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year - were unequivocal. “Fashion has the underlying notion to push the boundaries and create individuality. And at the end of the day, that’s what punk is. It will always be a massive force in fashion for that reason.”
“I think there are quite a few contemporary examples,” writer Paul Gorman - author of a forthcoming biography of punk godfather Malcolm McLaren - reflects, “once we establish that punk is not contained within stylistic definitions (safety pin through the nose, three chord rock, bin-liners, zips and chains, etc), but by McLaren’s definition backstage at Punkature (one of the final collections he produced in partnership with Vivienne Westwood) in 1982: that it is above all an idea expressed by being anti-corporate, anti-commercial, with a DIY aesthetic and containing a certain element of chaos.”
A photo posted by Claire Barrow (@claire_barrow) on May 3, 2016 at 3:41pm PDT
“Claire Barrow is a case in point, in her blurring of the boundaries between artistic expression and fashion design, her dogged individuality and refusal to abide by the industry cycle, in particular the withdrawal from the seasonal agenda. Vetements, Hood By Air and others maintain similar punk rock attitudes beyond their sloganeering, bringing the counter-culture to the catwalk. Pokit (the cult British label founded by Bayode Oduwole and Claire Pringle) shifting base in London and refusing to allow commercial success to impinge on their core vision are pretty damn punk rock in my opinion.”
There were certainly plenty of ‘punk’ reference points on the London runways - in Charles Jeffrey’s eclectic, exuberant chaos, in Matthew Miller’s sombre collages, or at Mihara Yasuhiro’s tribute to Karlheinz Weinberger, the photographer whose ‘Rebel Youth’ book recorded a generation of Swiss cultural outcasts. Discussing McQueen’s latest collection, stylist Alister Mackie referenced the notion of a ‘punk Maharaja’. “It is when people try to “do” punk that they come a cropper,”Gorman suggests. “See the failure of Meadham Kirchoff, who simply aped the stylistic tropes of 30 years ago, rather than thinking through the possibilities of where the attitude could take them in the 21st century.”
Of course, punk itself was only ever an ephemeral moment. “By the late autumn of 1977 the initial shockwave of punk had dissipated somewhat,” Ridgers recalled, in an interview for the Paul Smith exhibition. “and the energy of the scene just didn’t seem the same any more. By then, you could see punk-inspired fashions creeping into the big stores along Oxford Street and mass acceptance of punk by the British mainstream meant that it didn’t seem dangerous any more. So the cool kids moved on.”
The move ushered in the era of the New Romantics, and then that of the rave generation, each new wave defining their culture in stark contrast to the one before. And the punk spirit simply emerged in different ways - in the fury of McQueen’s early collections, in Gareth Pugh’s spectacular concoctions made from bin bags and paper straws, and in Aitor Throup’s stubborn disconnect with the fashion cycle.
A photo posted by NOWFASHION (@nowfashion) on Jun 16, 2016 at 5:08am PDT
So where are the cool kids now? In Paris and New York, staking their claim to the latest Shayne Oliver or Demna Gvasalia collections? In Florence, for Gosha Rubchinsky’s Pitti debut? Or somewhere new, far from the fashion mainstream, creating new movements that we haven’t even heard of yet?
The final word, inevitably, rests with McLaren; “Punk will come back in new forms always because the attitude is so very, very good. It's to do with people doing things for themselves, controlling their own methods and their own culture."