RSS

The Bulletin

The 'punk' aesthetic: relevant to culture and business

Posting in Design

The March 25 issue of The New Yorker features a worth-reading, behind-the-scenes look at the forthcoming "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (I have a pile of New Yorkers I'm getting through, so I'm about a week behind.) The show doesn't open until May 9. You might not be interested in punk music or history personally, but as a fashion and cultural influence, punk is an extraordinary example of how a particular style was defined and then sold to generations of people of all economic backgrounds.

What I found valuable to share from this New Yorker piece is how author Calvin Tomkins suggests why the punk aesthetic -- in fashion, specifically -- lives on and is so relevant in 2013. It's been a perennially strong force in retail, both high and low: consider the mutations of motorcycle jackets currently on sale at stores from H & M to Chanel. Some takeaways:

  • Punk in London and New York as it emerged in the late 1970s grew out of DIY (do-it-yourself) ingenuity that emerges after economic unrest. So we can see parallels to the late 2000s and early 2010s, in our culture of Making.
  • Punk is also about a subculture of mash-ups. As Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Met show, says in the New Yorker, "punk was very much about customization, going to thrift stores and army stores and mixing things together."
  • Punk has a very clearly defined aesthetic vocabulary (the color black; safety pins; mohawk haircuts; leather motorcycle jackets) that can be easily referenced by either DIYers or high-end designers who want to display their street-savvy.
  • Punk is always about irreverance. So staging a major exhibition on the genre is irreverent. So it's likely to draw both criticism and applause. And at the very least, it will spark conversations.

Image: Ester Inbar, available from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:ST

— By on March 29, 2013, 12:49 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure