Punk was all set to make a full resurgence as the travelling crew arrived at London Fashion Week. This imminent come back proves to be no surprise given the political charge brought about by recent world events. As the general public reels back from the atrocities of late, the fashion community has developed an appetite for revolt and a latent distrust for authority, making anti-establishment en vogue again. The focus of the fashion discourse is increasingly centered on matters on the ground rather than idealistic pursuits. If the rise of Vetements, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Ruth Bell and Derek Ridgers are anything to go by, Punk feels very much alive.
Its aesthetic continued well into the men’s collections in January and it trickled right through to the recently concluded women’s shows in New York, notably on the catwalks of Alexander Wang and DKNY. The street adhered to the brief as streetstyle stars opted for harder edged looks with their oversized hoodies and patent boots over feminine frocks. Given this elaborate preamble you could have sworn that London was going to carry forward the baton this season with a full-blown 70s’ Punk redux. It would have been a sweet return to 1975 when both sides of the pond were equally charged with rebellious energy. Punk burned brightly on King’s Road as it did in CBGB, the club in downtown Manhattan where it all happened.
VIDEO | GARETH PUGH READY TO WEAR FALL WINTER 2016 LONDON
VIDEO | GARETH PUGH READY TO WEAR FALL WINTER 2016 LONDONPosted by Nowfashion.com on Sunday, February 21, 2016
Alas, this rebirth that we all had hoped for was nothing more than a murmur at London Fashion Week, at least at first glance. No leather-on-leather, metal studs, piercings or anything of that sort save for the few buzz cuts that made it down the runway. The city’s reputation as the purveyor of subculture and brow raising clubwear took a hit this season as the usual suspects of London underground steered away from any notions of Otherness. Gareth Pugh, J.W. Anderson, Sibling, and even Vivienne Westwood had different ideas of how to forward fashion’s latest obsession with going against the grain.
Gareth Pugh’s star-spangled collection held at the Freemason’s Hall spoke to a different kind of political agenda: it paid homage to female power. Citing Marie-Agnès Gillot, the Prima Ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet, Pugh said, “I think that my work has always been geared toward female leadership; it’s always been about role models, particularly those who somehow toy with our collective fantasies.” He also described the show as an exploration of “raw female ambition”. The visual spectacle not withstanding, Pugh’s offer this season read like a conscious departure from the tough, monochromatic, dark aesthetic he has become synonymous with.
J.W. Anderson pulled a similar curve ball through his exploration of cocktail dressing. An iconoclast on the London schedule whose previous core themes covered class systems, ideas of good taste and gender fluidity, Anderson moved the conversation elsewhere. A handwritten quote by interior designer David Hick’s was the designer’s sole clue. It read: “The excitement of today is the freedom of the individual to make his own choice and the last range of possibilities from which he may choose.” Cryptic as it may be, the quote bears resonance to the very British Post-war attitude towards individuality that fueled the Punk movement in the first place. In a comment backstage, Anderson quipped, “I like the idea of the confrontation of clothing. You need to be absorbed by it.”
Sibling on the other hand couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed to Punk. Citing Grace Jones and the headiness of the 80s, the designers explored cocktail dressing much like Anderson. Titled “Give the World a Little Disco”, the show offered respite. Lurex, sequins and Sibling’s stellar knitwear brought the audience back to simpler times. References to French artist Pierre Soulages and his experimentation with paint rendered the Sibling show its usual currency but the foray into eveningwear was truly unexpected. Safe to say Sibling continues to march to its own beat. It never fails to stand by its idiosyncrasies season after season, making it the clear stand out at the shows.
Where Punk emerged, it was on the least likely of catwalks. Designer Johnny Coca, a former designer at Céline, made his runway debut for Mulberry with a collection which amalgamated visual codes of Punk with English romanticism. Metal studs, biker jackets and metal chains were paired with preppy staples. Fishnets were abstracted beyond its usual Punk connotation. The end result was a collection that felt rightfully contemporary.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came from the Queen of Punk herself, Vivienne Westwood. She swapped out her Climate Change agenda for a call to arms for “Intellectuals [to] Unite”. Westwood’s collection was flawless, true to form in terms of her signature DIY ethic, harking back to the era of Malcolm Mclaren and World’s End back in the 70s on King’s Road. This season showcased more of that Rivé Gauche eccentricity, of old school “intellectual dressing” that originated from the Parisian Left Bank. On the nod to intellectuals, Westwood explained: “At the time of the Renaissance, the intellectuals were the most important people in society, they were respected and listened to and they directed things.” In a way Westwood confessed the girl on the catwalk is much like her, “she’s adventurous, she tries to understand what’s going on in the world, she is an art lover and she is an intellectual; she’s intellectually inclined at least.” Far form brandishing a badge of honour, Westwood shared that wielding intellect is a means towards activism. “We really care about understanding the world we live in and our place in it, what can we do,” she said.
Despite the lack of outright references to the Punk movement as we know it, London pulled the biggest rebellion of all: to reject the popularised concept of Punk that has been referenced, rehashed and recycled on the runways, time and time again. By abandoning a trend that lends itself naturally to the city that originated it, London asserts its autonomy. This non-conformist, anarchic, and critical streak towards the status quo have saved the audience from enduring pastiche or worse, nostalgia. It is this very reason why London remains unparalleled as the city with the carte blanche to do just as it pleases.