Pretty in punk. The punk playlist (one that would make Fat Mike spin in his oversized grave. If he’s dead yet…). ‘Add a touch of punk chic with blah blah blah’. I see it so often, it’s a wonder that the misappropriation and misdefining of the words punk, grunge and emo can even fill me with rage anymore. But, somehow, they do.Once upon a time, punk meant something. No, I don’t mean the sort of pseudo anarchistic bullshit put out by bands like The Sex Pistols (created by manager Malcolm McLaren with the sole intention of creating controversy, with Johnny Rotten leaving the band when he discovered that the band was as big a manufactured fraud as Leona Lewis), which is about as well thought out and meaningful as someone buying a V For Vendetta mask and deciding they’re a member of Anonymous.
Punk was never (just) about making a scene. The motivations behind punk vary from making a statement about gender (c.f. the asexual antics of Joan Jett, who refused to let the fact that she was female define her musical identity) to defying social conventions – here I’m thinking of the cathartic lyrics of Minor Threat and the birth of the straight edge movement. The medium of punk may be distorted guitars and tight black clothes, but they are never the message.
From about 2000 onwards, all of that passion and meaning started being stripped away. When Versace released their collection inspired by Fight Club, they took something visceral and counter cultural and turned it into something devoid of substance. While I wouldn’t particularly recommend starting up a fight club or burning a lye kiss onto your hand (both of which men did in droves did after Fight Club was released) I will forever have more respect for those who did that than industry airheads who thought sewing razorblades into a shirt made ‘like, such a statement.’
While there’s something brash and Fight Club-esque about brands like The Ragged Priest (who, admittedly, I kinda like) buying up vintage denim, tie-bleaching it, putting some spikes on it and ripping out the labels, only to export it back to mainstream stores with a hugely inflated price tag, I hate the way it commodifies the DIY ethos of punk. Almost as much as I hate girls who wear Ramones t-shirts and don’t know any of their songs besides ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’.
A couple of years back, Vice published a piece about leather jackets. The piece really resonated with me because of the way each jacket seemed to tell a story, which is (to me) what fashion is all about. Yes, Jeremy Scott’s winged Adidas shoes are pretty out there, but I like them because they remind me of Hermes (that’s the winged messenger god, not the brand). They send an implicit message about the desire to reach new heights, and delivering divine messages. Yes, if I ever manage to scrimp together the cash to buy a pair, I’ll probably joke that they make me feel like a 21st century Hermes with a blog.
The current trend of buying studded…well, everything, completely undermines the impetus behind it. Manufactured studs, spikes and acid washes that come as standard are truly style without substance. And that’s not punk.