During the red carpet arrivals telecast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit ball on Monday, celebrities struggled to name their favorite punk bands when probed by model Hilary Rhoda and William Norwich, the live stream hosts for the evening.
Knowing the theme was punk ahead of the museum’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture” exhibit, guests must have researched, or required their assistants do the dirty work for them, or even had them make a playlist for ambiance while getting dressed in their punk duds, right?
Exhibit A: "Are the Goo Goo Dolls considered punk?" New York Knicks forward Tyson Chandler’s wife, Kimberly, asked.
Exhibit B: “My punk IQ is low,” rapper Frank Ocean yielded.
Exhibit C: “I went to the Warped Tour a lot,” actor Darren Criss said.
And, worst of all, Exhibit D: "I dig Green Day and Avril Lavigne,” actress Hailee Steinfeld said. Thankfully, Steinfeld’s pal and Teen Vogue style director Andrew Bevan informed her that “Avril Lavigne is not punk!”
Some simple answers could have been: Bad Brains, The Clash, Bad Religion, Black Flag, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. Yet, few celebrities made mention of these bands Monday night at the Met Gala.
Instead their replies, plus the countless other I-don’t-know responses from the brigade lucky enough to get the first peak at the Met’s latest exhibit, made us wonder why the glitterati were even there in the first place. Aside from the chance to wear couture and have their photos posted on countless blogs and web sites, of course.
Most of these A-listers, the cream of the crop who heavily impact today’s pop culture, completely failed to recognize one of the biggest movements in pop culture history, one that undoubtedly paved the way for their existence today.
If it wasn’t for designer Marc Jacobs’ thoughtful comments about punk -- “The New York punks for sure had a sort of style with substance and there was a social significance to that style.” -- I might have blown a gasket. But then, just as my saving grace hit the live stream, Jacobs was cut off.
So was Vivienne Westwood when she had her punk moment. As soon as the designer, whose work was even showcased in the exhibit, threw in a bit of politics with the mention of Bradley Manning, the cameras shifted to Rhoda introducing a video about the museum’s curator, Andrew Bolton, faster than CBS’ flip from Janet Jackson’s nipple at the 2004 Super Bowl.
With all the fuss about punk in honor of the exhibit at the Met, why was the entire ceremony devoid of punk, aside from the garb of spikes, studs and the like? Oh, and let’s not forget the punk door greeters and CBGB bathroom remake.
Perhaps that’s just the way Vogue, one of the collaborators of the event, wanted it; it seems everyone latched on to this modus operandi of encouraging punk without fully embracing the movement itself. Even Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley uttered: “I skipped punk and went straight to couture. I never did punk.”
Without doubting Talley’s sincerity -- considering I hold him in the highest regard as he is arguably one of the greatest editors to grace the glossy -- it is my sincere belief that the majority of the Gala’s attendees did not understand the point of the exhibit, or the night’s theme itself.
“One of the main reasons for staging an exhibition on punk is to explore the huge impact punk has had on high fashion, on couture, and directional ready-to-wear,” as the curator, Bolton, explained. “I think in the last 35 years, punk has had perhaps one of the largest impacts on fashion, in terms of its aesthetic.”
He then cited the do-it-yourself hardware like safety pins, studs, zippers, and graffiti, a la Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, Debbie Harry and Joe Ramone. It might be a longshot, but I’d bet anything that had Vicious, Strummer, Ramone and the like not deconstructed, graffitied, ripped and re-stitched, ready-to-wear fashion would not be what it is today.
As Bolton said of punk and couture:
“Both really rely on hand-crafted skills for the aesthetic. So in a way, punk clothing is haute couture. … Even though the aesthetic is often widely different between haute couture and punk, the ethos behind it is very similar.”
Hopefully, they finally understood the exhibit and are briefed for next time. If there is one.