The Costume Institute’s latest exhibit, “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” takes a broad look at the chain-wearing, lip-piercing, eye-lining counterculture movement of the seventies and eighties. While curator Andrew Bolton was a bit too young to experience London’s punk heyday, he says he gave the aesthetic a whirl in his teens: “I tried,” he said, straightening his horn-rimmed spectacles and grinning sheepishly. “But no matter what I do, I’ll always be too preppy-looking.”
The exhibit revolves around the two centers of punk, New York and London. In both places, musicians played a major role — in the U.S., Patti Smith and Debbie Harry held court at downtown dives like CBGB (whose grubby, gross-looking bathroom is replicated in the show), while London had the Sex Pistols and the Clash. In addition to ripped fishnets, studded leather, and lots of chain-trimmed garments, the exhibit shows old concert footage of Sid Vicious and the Ramones.
Meanwhile, the “couture” portion features great vintage pieces from the punk era, including gowns by Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes, as well as more recent couture interpretations by designers like Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace (that famous safety pin dress!), and Margiela. Who is Bolton’s ultimate punk hero? “John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten. He was the ultimate pinup of the punk movement,” he said. “But what’s extraordinary is the breadth of the punk aesthetic.” Enjoy this video tour of the new exhibit, which opens to the public on Friday, May 10.