As a revolt against the glitz of disco and the corporate glory of the 80s, the studs and spikes of punk found their way into some of fashion’s most renowned collections. But how did punk come so far?
Style can define the times. Mapping the shifting styles of the 20th century allows one to read the mood, politics, and culture of that era – whether it’s through the psychedelic patterns and palette of the 1960s, or the corny conservatism of 80s power dressing. By the 1990s, there was a revival of the punk movement that had defined the 1970s – a style that ebbed and flowed as all do, but, for a time, impacted the art, cinema and fashion of both decades.
Few cities housed the right mix of elements for the revival of punk as London. At 1995, it stood as the capital city of the world, with a punk ethos that had gone global, thanks to Brit icons Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols. Kurt Cobain and Kate Moss were the king and queen of cool, Thatcherism was over, and teens gorged on a diet of new American sitcoms and Pop-Tarts. Punk was about self-expression, rejecting the status quo, and embracing the alternative. The death of disco and nostalgia for the 70s and 80s paved the path for this rejection of the system. Always capable of reinvention, artists and designers again pushed punk culture to the forefront, with leather jackets hanging in their wardrobes and Nirvana blaring from their bedrooms.
At the same time, in the studios, workshops and schools of fashion, the hallmarks of punk began to take hold. The early punk aesthetic, born in the 70s, favoured ripped clothing, found materials, personal embellishments, and, of course, leather. The aggressively DIY nature of the design was a punk hallmark, a rebellion against the glitz of disco and the new waves of pop.
These studs and spikes eventually found their way into the collections of Balenciaga, Viktor & Rolf and Dolce & Gabbana, allowing artists to add personal flourish to a movement favouring exactly that. The anarchic style and room for improvisation was welcomed most openly by Alexander McQueen, whose graffiti-influenced shows and DIY aesthetic both appalled and entranced the fashion elite. Westwood went so far as to use 17th and 18th century cloth-cutting principles, and juxtaposing this with an S&M style. Punk also encouraged gender fluidity, something that was explored in Jean Paul Gaultier’s 90s collections. The punk aesthetic had been viewed as the enemy of fashion, and was now filtering into its biggest fashion houses.
The deliberate ugliness of punk marked a changing tide for couture, as mohawks replaced ponytails, studs supplanted diamonds, and Kate Moss dined with punk rockers for US Vogue. Punk spirit didn’t simply diffuse through the fashion industry – riot grrrl, the underground feminist hardcore punk movement began to take root too, countering consumerism. Even pop music felt the punch of punk, with Offspring and Green Day fusing the two styles. Such is the nature of punk’s history – from obscurity to sensation, it’s allowed the arts to raise a middle finger to the norm.
As with all style, punk has progressed – Vivienne Westwood, long credited with being at the forefront of punk fashion, stood by her son recently as he declared punk to be dead. That it progressed from the garage bands of the 70s into the mainstream of fashion in the 90s is testament to the strength of the aesthetic, and of the artists who kept it alive. Today, the spirit of punk is still felt in popular culture – Pussy Riot and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are perfect examples. Whether it’s McQueen stitching safety pins to his jackets, or Mario taking punks into the house of Vogue, they embrace the punk style – and have kept it alive for us to enjoy.