Monday, January 17, 2011

Tribute : Once O'punk a Time

Vivienne Westwood
 You've asked for more History articles, you will have more. Some would say that punks are not History, but I consider History everything that influences our present society, and it is strongly the case with the punk movement. Now, a punk is basically ( in the mind of most people ) a person who is wearing a dyed mohawk or is clad in black. Time to destroy these popular clichés. Don't try to make me believe that Jared Leto and Taylor Momsen are punks ... Being punk has little to do with mercantile attention seekers. Of course, there is no law and no thruth about being punk, but there are always douchebags to pretend the contrary.
The word punk is a very old one : Shakespeare used it to describe prostitutes, and in 20th century it was mainly used in prisons, some says as a very offensive term. In the late 60s, the word has been placed side by side with rock to describe a different type of garage rock. It was then detached again, by the music magazine "Punk". And everything begun.
David Bowie - Joe Strummer - British TV presenter Bill Grundy - Johnny Rotten - Malcolm McLaren - Smutty of the Rockats - Andy Warhol - Sid Vicious - Vivienne Westwood - background Kings Road with Sex ( )
 Contrary to another popular belief, the Punk movement begun in the United States, in the beginning of the 70s. Artist Andy Warhol was gathering many trendy newyorkers in his Factory, where was born a community of free-thinkers, artists and musicians of a new kind. Among them were Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground, Television, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Debbie Harry and Blondie, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, all performing at the famous club CBGB. Fashion, at the time, was inspired by the Mods, rockers who dressed with bikers' clothes and wore mullets. Soon, the band The New York Dolls, and his singer Johnny Thunders, developped a different way to dress, with girl clothes worn by men. The show "Pork", created by Andy Warhol, had also an huge impact on the world of entertainment, especially on one special artist : David Bowie. The British singer came back to his country with a brand new style inspired by what he saw in New York. His character of Ziggy Stardust launched the Glam movement, but also influenced many teenagers. But he was not the only one to have been amazed by this new trend, coming from the other side of the Atlantic.
In 1972, a British couple decided to open a shop on Kings Road, to sell clothes inspired by the early punks : Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. The shop, called "Let it Rock", became a real success and soon evolved in a new concept, called "Sex" in 1974. The same year, in the same shop, McLaren created his own punk band, the famous Sex Pistols. The band, composed of singer Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock, was not exactly a professional band. Most of them were beginners, and they clearly didn't give a damn about the whole thing, but they soon catched up the eyes of the public. The 1st December 1976, the band and some of his fans appeared on the Today Show, hosted by Bill Grundy. The TV show was broadcasted live and everyone on the set was drunk, including Grundy himself. It was seen by a lot of people around the country and the behaviour of the punks shocked them a lot, especially for their several use of five letter words ... It would be quite banal now, but at the time, it was really outrageous and it seriously launched the career of the Sex Pistols.
The punks were invading UK. The fans soon became rockers too, and most of the main bands of the Music History were created then : The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure ( which later created the Gothic movement ), Generation X, The Buzzcocks, The Cramps, The Damned, ... and later, Joy Division. London became the center of the punk world, and even the early actors of New York settled in the capital of England. But too much provocation and chaos soon led the punks to decline. Sid Vicious replaced Matlock in the Sex Pistols and he drove the band to its end, with the blessings of McLaren, who was counting on the junkie's provocations for his marketing. Some says McLaren was a genius, but I'd rather think he was an opportunist. Nothing new !
The Sex Pistols went to USA, they clashed. Sid killed his girlfriend Nancy, died of an overdose of heroin and the Punk died of an overdose of trash. Born in the USA, died in the USA, it sounded natural. Broken in many different pieces, the movement evolved : the 80s saw the rise of the gothics, Johnny Rotten helped the expansion of the reggae, Joy Division represented the post-punk hope and open the way to the alternative rock, and The Exploited created the wave of the "crest punks", those rockers with enormous mohawks. "Punk's not dead" was their main slogan, but Punk as it used to be was definitely part of the past.
Gaye Advert - Cherry Vanilla - Siouxsie Sioux - Debbie Juvenile - Nancy Spungen - Debby Harry - Nina Hagen - Sue Catwoman - made by Sam Tyler, background Mirror article on the Sex Pistols
 But if Punk had an huge impact on Music, it also had the same effect on lifestyle and fashion. The Punk movement was a liberation for the young people of the world, tired of a restricted life, and inspired by the Hippy movement and French 1968's revolution. The women saw an opportunity to show that they can be something else than just perfect housewives, and so, many of them left their marks on the movement. These icons were mainly from the Bromley Contingent, a group of friends coming from the borough of Bromley in London. Among them were Siouxsie Sioux, but also Jordan, the famous clerck of shop Sex, Debbie Juvenile, Linda Ashby, a dominatrix whose flat in St James became the HQ of the punks, Tracie O'Keefe, Sharon, ... The Pistols followers were mainly art students from St Martin's. They saw in the Punk movement a new way to express their passion, and also to live it up. Drugs and sex were their main interests, sometimes far behind music and fashion. It was the case for unfamous Nancy Spungen, Vicious' girlfriend, who was just a degenerate. But, fortunately, all the punk girls were not that empty, and some of them have had a great impact on modern girls, thanks to their independance and their style.
Bondage Suit by Sex - Sweater by Seditionaries - Top by Vivienne Westwood - Outfit by Let it Rock - Bondage boots by Seditionaries - Shirt by Sex - Shop sign of Sex - Self made badge
 Of course, fashion is one important point of the punks, and this is mainly a fashion blog, so I'm going to develop it more. As most of punks were artists, students and generally coming from a modest background, their clothes were often handmade. They launched the "Do It Yourself" movement. The shirts were customized with patches, safety pins, badges, prints and other accessories such as chains and armbands, modeled after the Punk itself, which was described by John Savage as pre-existing youth cultures stuck together with safety pins.
 Punks main idea was to provocate the right-thinking society so they stole a lot to the skinheads and the sadomasochists. Indeed, most of the t-shirts bore swastikas, anti-catholic slogans and sexual contents. They were not racist at all, just little idiots who thought they were funny using such outrageous symbols. They didn't care about politics, but they were rebelling against English government. Anarchy was an extreme point of view, so they adopted it and sprinkled some designs of the anarchist "A" on their clothes, as well as pictures of Karl Marx and of the Queen ( see the famous Pistols "God save the Queen" ). Quite an odd mix, but as long as it looked outrageous, it was considered as great.
Bondage was also something important in the punks' attires. Their taste for leather and rubberwear was borrowed to the SM and homosexual communities, which they helped a lot. Bondage was the only thing dark in the punk fashion, which was more colourful than believed. Sid Vicious was the only one at the beginning to wear leather jackets and jeans, as the punks main clothes were surprisingly ... sweaters. It's true ! A look at contemporary pictures will convince you : striped, multicouloured and often destroyed, the sweater is everywhere. The women wore ripped leggings. Tartan, ties, tape and garbage bags were at the programme too ...
Most of the punks' clothes were made by themselves, but Vivienne Westwood soon revealed her talents of designer and she created most of the clothes of her shops "Let it Rock", "Sex" and later "Seditionaries". Other shops were opened on Kings Road but were less famous, and sometimes more considered as tourists' shops. Let's quote Acne and Boys, of stylist Helen Robinson.
No mohawk for the early punks : Sue Catwoman was the only one with a weird hairdo, Linda Ashby was skinhead and Sid has got spiky hairs, but most of the time it was short for men and long for women, sometimes dyed, always dirty. Extreme make-up and body art, even for men, was common, the trends of piercings and tattoos mainly started in the 80s.
Agyness Deyn - "Punk" by Tim Flash - Kate Moss in Isabel Marant - Danielle Scutt AW 2010 - Nana - Dimepiece Bondage t-shirt - Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander for W Magazine
And now, what the punk's heritage ? Vivienne Westwood is one of the most famous designers in the Industry. Other designers were inspired by punks : Jean-Paul Gaultier for example, or Danielle Scutt to name a few. T-shirts reminding of those of "Sex" have spread, such as the "Bondage Boy" t-shirt of brand Dimepiece. And the sweaters ! Those of Isabel Marant look like the exact replicas of those of Siouxsie or Johnny Rotten ... Kate Moss, the face of the brand and godmother of sons of Clash member Paul Simonon, one of the most famous punk bands, is a modern punk girl, and when in couple with rocker Pete Doherty, they were said to look a lot like Sid and Nancy. Hopefully, Kate didn't end like her lookalike ... Punks are also often saw in fashion photography and in fictions, such as in the Japanese manga Nana, where the heroine wears Vivienne Westwood clothes and the hero looks like Sid Vicious. The character of Lisbeth Salander, created by author Stieg Larsson has got a punk look too.
Punk came back in trends at the beginning of the 21th century. Before, the only admirers of the movement were people who lived it or some old fashioned teenagers who prefered old rock to hip hop and techno. I was among those kids, and even if my punk years are far behind me, I have to admit that they still influence my sense of fashion and of arts. "Once a punk, always a punk" I guess ... We all belong to the Blank Generation now.


  1. Love this post!! Great collage!!

    Stop by sometime dear!! Maybe we could follow each other if you like?


  2. great post, the collages are so fun :)

  3. where the hell did you get this info? from wikipedia? tip for bloggers: only write what you really know about. keep the history lesson for teachers

  4. Which info ? No, I didn't get that from Wikipedia but from MY knowledge and from a book which is considered as a reference, "Punk" from Colegrave and Sullivan. And if you don't like it, it's not my problem AT ALL.

  5. Blank Generation is such a song. Energising!

  6. Great post. My dad was a punk (albeit a middle class boy masquerading as one), and now I'm really interested in a lot of music from that time. The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure and the Buzzoccks are all favourites of mine. I've been fascinated with the idea of punks since about the age of ten, when I customised an old t-shirt with artful rips and a box of safety pins! Vivienne Westwood was probably the first fashion designer I ever hear of too. What an inspiration.

  7. Really cool post! Love the collages!

    To anonymous- UM, wow. Negativity has no place in the blogosphere.


  8. Amazing post inspired me to go off and listen to some X-Ray Spex :)


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