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Young Star

Punk’d: Anarchy yesterday and today

- Alessandra Tinio -
It’s time to celebrate the anniversary of one of the last truly great cultural movements, punk rock. And I’m not talking about Good Charlotte and Simple Plan boy-band punk, but the rebellious musical and cultural revolution that gave us icons like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and Blondie who defined the sound of a decade and challenged every national institution on every possible level. The year 1976 gave birth to a movement that encouraged a strong individualist outlook and attitude, immortalized in music and memorable fashion. It was anti-establishment, counter-culture and it carried insightful ideology, amazing music and visually exciting self-expression through clothing. It is a permanent fixture in history and 30 years later, its impact lives on in the spirit of every rebellious youth culture and fashion that continue to change the look of contemporary fashion.

Punk stands in a league of its own as a movement where clothing and style were a vital means of rebellion. The London punk scene shares a special relationship with punk fashion, as the home bases for implementing the ideology were two peculiar clothing shops on The King’s Road in London. Virtually every element of punk’s style, attitude and subversive politics emanated from either Acme Attractions or the provocative store Sex, owned by future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm Mclaren and the ever iconic (albeit now couture) designer Vivienne Westwood. Punk revolutionaries frequented the two stores to buy clothes but often left with the intention of changing the world.

Acme Attractions was located at 135 Basement in The Chelsea Antique Market, and was manned by such punk figureheads as Don Letts (reggae DJ, filmmaker), and Jeannette Lee of P.I.L. Letts recalls, "Acme was the happiest time of my life. It reflected the way London was going; it was about multi-culturalism." Bob Marley was also a frequent visitor, and the multi-cultural outlook in music and fashion led to the musical fusion of punk and reggae. The exchanges led several bands such as The Clash to openly encourage integration and racial equality. The inclusive and interactive nature of the Acme environment was reflected also in its clothing range, which featured ‘60s suits, John Wayne Gacy T-Shirts, plastic trousers and the first wave of PVC items to appear on punk’s spiky-haired first wave of looks. While Acme promoted very peaceful and free-thinking ideals, it greatly differed from the hard-edged environment of Mclaren and Westwood’s Sex.

Mclaren and Westwood opened Let it Rock in 1972, and then Too Fast to Live in 1973 before it became the provocative Sex boutique. To most, Sex was not just a store, it was a concept. That concept allowed the freedom of ideas that immortalized Punk in the mind’s eye of a generation, and made Westwood a pioneer designer of contemporary fashion. Mclaren and Westwood, tired of the conservatism of society, expressed their dissatisfaction and views through statements in clothing. They imparted the same kind of provocative attitude to their customers. They encouraged individualism in fashion as a means of rebellion. From the risqué bondage looks to the do-it-yourself aesthetic of the ripped and torn outfits, punk was as identifiable by clothing as much as through the music. The rough look of safety pins and deconstructed clothing was the anti-thesis of the flowered bell bottom look of the time. The fashion was in such a huge contrast to the norm that it spoke against – the institutions a generation could find no relation to. The lack of gender restrictions within the movement gave us some of the most iconic and daring women to emerge in music history. The tough and ballsy Siouxsie Soux, the vamp Deborah Harry and the first all-female punk outfit, The Slits. The fashion ideals announced a new way forward for society, especially in the UK. Bands used clothes to make statements, some painted slogans on their clothing like "Passion is a fashion" as worn by Joe Strummer. What Mclaren and Westwood created was not fashion as a commodity but fashion as an idea. Punk fashion was so revolutionary because it broke down taboos. Before it, there weren’t any clothes that could change the way you thought about things.

The true punks who lived and embraced the lifestyle in mindset, dress, attitude and music made a mark on the whole world. They openly fought the institutions and posed the questions that allowed for change the world over. The punk approach to style created the most memorable, vibrant and daring way of self-expression that still echoes decades later. I hope that, along with the nostalgia, people take 2006 to celebrate punk and remember to embrace fashion as a gift of self-expression. So use your clothing to speak your mind. Take on life this year with a vicious punk rock snarl and encourage your own independent outlook where no one decides the limits of your life but you. Rock on, here’s to 30 years of punk rock, attitude and, of course, fashion!

ACME ATTRACTIONS

BOB MARLEY

CHELSEA ANTIQUE MARKET

CLOTHING

DEBORAH HARRY

DON LETTS

FASHION

MCLAREN AND WESTWOOD

PUNK

SEX PISTOLS

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