On Fashion’s Forever Long Love Affair With Punk


Can resistance ever be boiled down to a look? And can you be down for the cause while simultaneously wearing fresh-off-the-runway designer wares? Fashion is arguably at one of its most self-aware periods in recent history, with brands and designers reacting to global events, politics and the zeitgeist in both refreshingly explicit and strategically subtextual ways. There was so much to speak up about during the spring runways: sexism (Dior and Prada), ‘fake news’ (Balenciaga), the state of America (Calvin Klein), the state of Britain (Preen). The spring runway shows were a season of bold statements and sartorial side eyes at the patriarchy/establishment/insert your ill here.


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So it wasn’t a surprise to see the return of punk, fashion’s original symbol of defiance. Hardly a new idea, but it suited the current mood perfectly. While in one corner most of the fashion world was rebelling against the status quo with a joie de vivre-fuelled air strike of sequins, optimism, rainbows, elegance and glamour, those remaining in the other were responding with bite and spike.

The look is new punk, but using the old, classic tropes in all their variations. Think of it as a post-punk mash-up — more attitude than labels. A little rude boy, a little early generation (pre-nationalism) skinhead, a little death rock, a tad mod, a little Vivienne Westwood during the Malcolm McLaren days.

At Balenciaga and Junya Watanabe, the Eighties-style spikes were so large and sharp on the models’ shoes and heads they could have doubled as weapons, like middle fingers with razor-sharp talons, ready to pop the swelling bubble of populism, while at Kenzo and Louis Vuitton, the punk moments looked more futuristic, via slick black leather and patent, coupled with shaggy, Ramones-like hair. And at Prada, the feeling was older, via the Sixties and Seventies, with loads of mannish, black tailoring, retro button-down shirts and a plethora of studs. Even the collections that weren’t overtly punk had a smidge of it: the biker boots at Alexander McQueen and Moschino, the tartan at Burberry and the studded leather at Balmain and Versace.


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‘Punk means rebellion and resistance, and it will always be that,’ says stylist Jan-Michael Quammie, known for her own punk-rock look. ‘It was never meant to be trendy – it’s timeless, it’s a lifestyle. Punks are anti-conformity; they’re misunderstood and ignored but, most of all, they’re individuals, and that’s what makes their look so cool. There is an undeniable feeling of resistance within subcultures, and your look is part of that.’

Slick Woods and Rihanna are both very new punk – women who have incredibly cool, singular, ‘fuck-you’ looks, with equally strong messages; people who aren’t trying to be different, but just are. It’s not unusual to see Rihanna’s selfies, lip-gloss plugs and outfits of the day broken up by calls to action against bullying and racial injustice. Meanwhile, fashion model Slick, self-described ‘bald-headed ass’ and Rihanna’s spirit animal (not to mention one of the faces of Fenty cosmetics), uses her social channels to speak boldly about the importance of protecting black lives.


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Meanwhile, politics and pop culture are also birthing new strains of punk: the band of Islamaphobia-fighting musicians, punk Muslims, making headlines from Indonesia, or the wave of post-Brexit, political rock acts in England, for example.

In fashion, though, punk is wholly unique, simply because the look of it is so inextricably linked with the mindset and ideas of authenticity. You can’t try on punk, take it off and then put it in the back of your closet the way we did last year’s tracksuits. Or can you? Designer jeans, a £1,500 studded jacket and some reimagined Doc Martens, as prescribed by the runways, does not a badass necessarily make. Or does it? Sid Vicious famously bought fashion magazines and copied the looks. ‘Complete fashion victim. Nothing he wore really suited him. It was as if the clothes wore him,’ punk godfather Johnny Rotten said in his book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. (Meanwhile, Rotten had his punk card revoked, in the eyes of many, last year when he endorsed the conservative Donald Trump and equally conservative Brexit vote.) Punk isn’t always completely original. Hardcore legend Mike Watt, for example, first stumbled on his signature style of flannel shirts when he mimicked the look of John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival at the age of 13. Patti Smith, undisputed queen of the genre, chopped her hair into her trademark cut to look like the boys she knew following a folk phase in their youth. And in the past, Rihanna has been accused of emulating everyone from Grace Jones to the New York countercultural nightlife movement GHE20 GOTH1K.


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Few radicals start off that way right out of the gate – most hone their voice and style after trial and error and, yes, a little simulation. Like with most fashion, there really is an element of faking it until you make it; dressing the part until you actually are the brave revolutionary you’ve always wanted to be. The spring season has plenty of wardrobe options to help get you started.


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