Punk: A look at how the movement is turning 40 (disgracefully, of course)
By Nick Paget

Punk, the seminal subculture is officially middle aged this year, disgracefully turning 40. WGSN Senior Menswear Editor Nick Paget looks at the impact of this fashion movement

Mar 09, 2016
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For me, punk is personal. The wild, creative and untamable essence of punk as an ideology inspired a fashion and music genre which subsequently split into factions and continues to evolve and live on today.

This year, the movement turns 40, and with the UK often considered the birthplace of the 1970’s subversive youth culture phenomenon, 2016 sees various exhibitions and events in and around London, organised to celebrate its inception.

Punk.london –is a site packed with events scheduled to mark its birth – and neatly reflects how “punk allowed a generation to express themselves without deference, to invent without fear, and to create without boundaries”

Browsing the site made me think about the huge influence punk had on me and on the fashion industry as a whole. With Vivienne Westwood’s career built on her King’s Road SEX venture with Malcolm McLaren, fashion’s relationship with punk was established at the beginning, with it’s DIY bricolage style central to the freedom of self-expression mantra that punk espoused.

Chaotic and, by definition, anarchic, the subculture that polite society of the time found transgressive eventually fractured into so many factions that it came to mean less and less. Perhaps not-so-ironically, it would be the commercialisation of punk that would diminish its power and reduce it to another marketable fashion statement. Some would say that punk died with the demise of the Sex Pistols in 1978.

Since those gritty 1970’s days, designers have raided, reproduced and re-interpreted punk themes again and again and the A/W 16 menswear shows were no exception. Sitting at the shows, I realised how punk was back at the forefront of the collections.

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Haider Ackermann and Versace both imagined punk sensibility mixed with a budget to dwarf that of most 20th century British youths(!) and endowed the spiky, confrontational style of the original punks with a sumptuous and luxurious edge.

It is punk’s anti-establishment, non-comformist core values that are cited by detractors when designers raid the dressing-up box of youth culture, but punk’s identity was – almost from the word go – controversial and contradictory, with Westwood and McLaren often accused of trying to steer punk for their own gain and delivering a uniform for punks that many felt was at odds with the anarchic element that was supposed to define it.

Punk safety-pinned together preceding youth cults to create something completely new at a time when culture seemed to be stalling in the wake of the bloated excesses of the hippy movement and amidst the mirror-gazing glamour of disco. And each decade since has seen traces of this fire coming back in fashion and music. The specter of punk hangs over grunge and straight edge, so it seems that when a section of young people feel repressed, dis-enfranchised and down-trodden, a rebellious movement like punk rises.

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