Lisa Armstrong and Luke Leitch on how the celebs toughened up at fashion's smartest party
This week's punk ball on Manhattan's Upper East Side was never going to replicate being at the Pistols' first gig at London's Central St Martins in '75.
One of New York's glossiest social fixtures, the gala kicks off the Metropolitan Museum's annual fashion exhibition. This year's offering is 'Punk: From Chaos to Couture'. I think we could all guess ahead of time which part of that equation would feature most strongly on the red carpet.
The non-chaotic tone was set by the Met Ball hostess, Anna Wintour, an editor who is to even mild disorganisation what Sid Vicious was to skincare. Anna wore floral Chanel couture, raising eyebrows among certain affronted guests who had interpreted the dress code more punctiliously.
Andrew Bolton, curator of the exhibition, defended the authenticity of Anna's dress choice. "Pink was the colour of punk," he explained. It was certainly the colour of Moschino's Cheap & Chic autumn/winter 2013 "punk" collection – and of many of 2013's non-punk collections. And that's the point.
With tables starting at $150,000, attendees each year want to see a little return for their outlay. Thus Topshop chose the event to unveil an audacious collection of floor-length evening dresses, which will be available to order and modelled by the hugely anarchic trio of Jourdan Dunn, Nicole Richie and Sir Philip Green's daughter Chloe.
The pundit-erati were not amused. It wasn't just the dearth of echt piercings that appalled those who remember punk from first time around. Where was Siouxsie Sioux, and every other surviving punk from the era? Why did everyone look so glossy?
In fairness, there were one or two genuinely punky moments. One was the arrival of Debbie Harry. Another was Dame Vivienne Westwood's badge reminding fellow guests of Bradley Manning's continuing detainment in Guantánamo. There were the razor blades, too, although these had admittedly been harnessed to a glittering chandelier.
Perhaps punk is no longer down with the kids; it is, after all, almost 40 years since that St Martins gig. The guests may have come to praise, not bury punk, but bury it they did.
Maybe the only meaningful criticism pertains to the exhibition itself. The New York Times was not effusive. The problem seems to be that being highly flammable, extremely tight and prone to being gobbed on, not much authentic fashion from the era survives. Now, that's a genuine punk statement.
Beyoncé's bigger-haired little sister ignored the dress code – as sanctioned by Anna Wintour's example (below) – in favour of a jazzily printed Kenzo leg-flasher. Unlike the many other guests who flunked punk, Knowles didn't fall into the trap of wearing the boringly conventional eveningwear that we have come to expect on the Hollywood red carpet – think flesh tones, fishtails and pastel flashes – but this doesn't quite cut it at a fashion party.
Pale and desperate to be interesting, Rooney Mara's look was more a celebration of Riccardo Tisci – the designer at Givenchy – than of punk. The plunging zippers and wan make-up did touch on the counter-culture, but both the actress and the dress were too ponderously serious.
Her image is as wholesome as spelt bread and she wears Valentino as reliably as you or I wear socks, so it seemed certain that the Met's punk theme would pass Anne Hathaway by entirely. Not so: for while the 30-year-old's vintage Valentino was conventionally elegant and her smile as floodlight-bright as usual, the Oscar-winner stole centre stage thanks to a radical reassessment of her hair colour. This is very punk in its blow-dried way – and a timely testament to the power of peroxide.
Marc Jacobs made his name turning grunge – the early 1990s equivalent of punk – into a form that fashion could understand. So his transformation of Miley Cyrus from Hannah Montana into a really rather convincing punkette is probably not all that surprising. Her fishnet evening dress works nicely with the bleached hair – it's a look that Nancy Spungen would have relished. And it works as a piece of red-carpet statement wear, too.
This look was so startlingly obvious that it's a wonder that many others didn't go for Miller's middle-ground combination of red-carpet dress – a crepe, ivory floor-lengther by Burberry – toughened up with a perennially punky biker jacket. Also by Burberry, Miller's leather came machine-gunned with enough studs to make Sid Snot catch his cigarette in awe. Along with Miley Cyrus this was one of the most effective combinations.