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Aisling O'Connor: Look forward in anger – punk fashion is back with vengeance


THOUGH the ripple effect of the anarchic culture of the late 1970s never really seemed to dissipate, fashion has decreed that punk is officially back. Tonight, the Met Gala – also known as the 'Fashion Oscars' for its high-rent red carpet stylings – launches the annual Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute exhibit.

Stars of fashion – supermodels, celebrities, designers, and stylists – are swooping into Manhattan for the biggest event on the New York social calendar. The subject this year is 'Punk: Chaos to Couture', a show that pin-points punk influence in modern fashion.

As with each and every Met fashion exhibit, the theme becomes an instant trend, thanks to co-organiser and 'editrix' of American 'Vogue', Anna Wintour. The 'Dragon Lady' need only marginally turn up the corners of her mouth at a runway show for the collection to be an instant success.

Last year's exhibition of the work of Miuccia Prada and surrealist icon Elsa Schiaparelli injected a jolt of modern art into high fashion. Wintour's endorsement of punk as a chic fashion statement will undoubtedly create a resurgence in penetrating hardware, distressed materials and all things ugly-pretty in over the next 12 months. But is the revival of punk, which has been in the waters for some time, a welcome one?

The organic intention of punk was counter-cultural, and its aesthetic founded in anti-fashion.

Those who were present and active in its inception are understandably giving an 'up yours' to this contemporary ratification of the chaotic artistic movement as an on-trend style.

However, the studs, zips, spikes, deconstructed fabrics and brightly dyed hair that are now fairly common on the street are still elements that are deemed to add an 'edge' to an ensemble and enable the wearer to stand out from the crowd.

What will be interesting is if the true nature of punk is embraced by a public experiencing a social, political and economic return to the early 1980s.

History is repeating itself in high unemployment, a fear of the future, and disillusionment – not only with our leaders, but also with who we are as a society. These are the factors that are thought to have originally lit the fire under a generation so sick of being treated like figures in a Subbuteo game.

IN the heady boom decade from the mid-90s onwards, we were encouraged to spend like there was no tomorrow and be celebrities in the making. But the society we had become came back to bite us after the crash, as our lives became a blur of stressful numbers in the red, and DVRs full of plastic reality shows. In the words of the Sex Pistols, it now feels like there is "no future for you, no future for me".

So something's got to give. Perhaps it will take public service workers showing up to work, not the picket lines, in deconstructed, grey Marks & Spencer suits, rocking neon Mohawks and sticking rings through their noses en mass in protest at the Government. 'Look what the bankers and the Kardashians have made the teachers and gardai do to their sensible hair'.

Thankfully, there is a distinct, cash-saving opportunity in reliving that contrarian cultural phenomenon. The DIY aspect of the subculture offers the fashionista in negative equity a cut-price 'in' on the forthcoming style.

As Johnny Rotten boasted, the safety pin was not an expression of self, but necessary to stop the arse falling out of one's trousers. Don't stop to roll your eyes at the Met Gala's sponsor 'Moda Operandi' missing the original point of the movement by releasing an exclusive collection of anarchy-inspired luxury pieces by the likes of Balenciaga, Thom Browne, and the godmother of punk fashion herself, Vivienne Westwood. Bravely pass Penneys, where before long thousands of ripped T-shirts will no doubt grace its busy shelves.

From fashionista to 'frugalista', one can save money by taking boom-bought threads and transforming them into a radical statement wardrobe. Punk had passion. Punk was contrarian. Punk was born of not being heard. Punk actively went about offending the establishment it was so very sick of. If Punk is back, its timing couldn't be better.

Irish Independent