Punk: Chaos to Couture

Andrew Bolton, with Richard Hell, John Lydon, and Jon Savage. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Yale Univ., dist.), $45 (240p) ISBN 978-0-300-19185-1
This striking catalogue, published to accompany the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute show of the same name, claims that “no other countercultural movement has had a greater or more enduring influence on high fashion.” Curator Bolton (Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty) defines punk as the “questioning of traditional representations... through its ethos of do-it-yourself.” This ethos is illuminated through four essays and five chapters of photos dedicated to Vivienne Westwood’s and Malcolm Maclaren’s early contributions and four DIY themes: hardware, bricolage, graffiti and agitprop, and destroy. Bolton and punk historian Savage claim that punk was influenced by a bewildering array of movements, including Dadaism, postmodernism, existentialism, Lettrism, and surrealism, as well as groups such as the Situationists and individuals like Rimbaud and Warhol. Grand political gestures are made on punk’s behalf without betraying the immaturity of its participants—Savage claims that they “intuitively understood that Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed everything.” Ironic couture appropriations are central to punk’s relevance and evolution, the book argues, as “safety pins were transformed into majestic gold- and silver-toned metal safety-pin ornaments resplendent with diamantes.” Literal street-to-runway transformation abounds, as in Junya Watanbe’s appropriation of Johnny Rotten’s striped mohair sweater, while examples such as John Galliano’s stunning trash-bag gown prove far more inventive. The enumeration of every influence, icon, and irony of punk makes the book a worthwhile primer, but Bolton’s justification of punk as Met-worthy can feel forced. 219 color and b&w illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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