Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Metropolitan Museum of Art, How to get the Punk Fashion exhibit right

After a recent brief exchange with Elle Fashion Editor at Large Lori Goldstein I finally admitted that I had to come to terms with my fears about the up coming "Punk" fashion exhibit at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The spring 2013 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is called, PUNK: Chaos to Couture. The exhibition, which runs from May 9 through August 14, 2013 will, "examine punk’s impact on high fashion from the movement’s birth in the 1970s through its continuing influence today.

To read the description of the approach to, and execution of the exhibit it sounds as if they might get at least some of it right. There seems to be a solid understanding of the DIY core of Punk fashion. The exhibit wisely has chosen to focus on both the fashion forged from the feelings that drive the Punk movement and the designers that have been "inspired" by those styles then and now. Now it goes without saying that not a single person who is involved with the exhibit is a Punk, was a Punk, listens to any Punk, or most importantly has ever been poor and hungry for one day in their whole life. This is the core of the disconnect and a source of a divide that I don't know can be overcome. Fashion is about rich people and Punk is about poor people. Punk is, (I do not say was because although dormant I believe the spirit of punk is about to make a huge comeback and contribution), about raw unedited expression that is neither informed nor deterred by convention or conventional thinking. It is very much an anti-everything as it is philosophy. If the best reason a culture could come up with is, "It's just not how it's done", then it's what Punk does. As Joe Strummer once explained, "Punk rock is meant to be our freedom. We're meant to be able to do what we want to do."

The other cornerstone of Punk and one I dearly loved was it's fist raising, and sometimes using, top of the lungs screaming that things are not okay. There are many accepted pillars of the way we conduct ourselves and teach our children that are wrong and we know they're wrong because they keep biting us in the ass. Punk was at it's best the confrontational addictions counselor who has that magical ability to call you on your crap in a way that you can't deny that it's crap. To me it is proof positive that society must always have a robust and vocal fringe that simply isn't interested in attaining status and the trophies that go along with it but would rather devote blood & sweat to pointing out how damaging the pursuit of that is. That brings me back to fashion as it exists today and the fact that the industry is about to "honor" the influence of Punk with the Met exhibit. One of the root causes with all that is ugly about fashion today is that money and connections rather than talent and vision is what gets the industry behind a designer today. If the CFDA and the powers that be really want to celebrate Punk what they will do is give several hundred thousand dollars to two or three designers who have shown enormous talent and the ability to stay in business for a few seasons despite the fact they have no money. That would be a very Punk thing to do. In a way though the Met is perhaps the perfect place to talk about Punk fashion because even though it is an institution that represents and is infected with wealth, status, and elitist power it only has a "recommended" admission price, which is also a very Punk thing to do.

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