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May 08, 2013

“Punk: Chaos to Couture” at the Costume Institute

By Ingrid Skjong | Exhibits

“Punk: Chaos to Couture” at the Costume Institute
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph (left)
© Dennis Morris - all rights reserved / (right) Photograph by Catwalking

At its core, the rough-and-tumble punk philosophy would seem to have little in common with high fashion. But the movement had an irrefutable effect on elevated style, and that colorful, complicated relationship comes to life in “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” a new exhibit (opening May 9) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

The show introduces punk with nods to pioneers like Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood, whose Seditionaries boutique was instrumental in the London scene; CBGB in New York; and icons like Deborah Harry, Richard Hell and Johnny Rotten. (Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols is pictured above [left] next to a 2006 runway look by Comme des Garçons.) A good portion of the exhibit focuses on punk’s DIY nature, illustrating how its devotees made clothing their own—ripping, tearing, splattering, pinning, painting—and how mainstream fashion designers followed suit: Versace’s safety-pin dresses in “Hardware”; slouchy crocheted knits by Rodarte in “Destroy”; Dolce & Gabbana’s brushstroke-painted silk gowns in “Graffiti/Agitprop”; a Gareth Pugh stole and skirt made of plastic trash bags in “Bricolage.”

Music and vintage video plays throughout, and the roughly 100 pieces displayed—many so textural you’ll want to touch—show how a tough, provocative aesthetic became a go-to inspiration. On the way out, the final mannequin, clad in a Maison Martin Margiela dress, gives the middle finger. It’s a moment of anarchistic swagger, proving punk always gets the last word. Through August 14; 1000 Fifth Ave.; 212-535-7710; metmuseum.org.