Alice Dellal sports the posh punk look, apparently
Alice Dellal sports the posh punk look, apparently

Punk has been misunderstood and misappropiated for decades.
Everyone will tell you what real punk is, and whether or not you are punk or not. That’s they way it is.

Alice Dellal sports the posh punk look, apparently
Alice Dellal sports the posh punk look, apparently

The latest twist is the world of catwalk fashion reclaiming punk for high fashion. Of course in many ways punk started as high fashion, the brilliant Sex clothes were a designer label of sorts but with a dark and dangerous twist.

The catwalk lot live in their own world. Dictating style and fashion from their ivory towers and looking for outrage to attract attention. For them punk is style over substance, a quick fix of freakiness, some heavily sprayed dishevelled hair or smudged make up, studs put into expensive leather and er, that’s it.

The contradictions of punk have always been fascinating and this latest misunderstanding is part of the story.

Whilst the political and social edge of punk would seem perfect for these dangerous times it seems the style and not the substance is what is interesting the fashion houses.

According to the Guardian. Jean Paul Gaultier, Balmain, Burberry, and Balenciaga have been working plenty of haute couture spikes, studs and black leather into the autumn shows and the signs are that next month’s London Fashion Week will follow through with hard-edged trends as an antidote to summer frock frippery.
The Alexander McQueen McQ label has a distinctly punk look, while Pam Hogg and Vivienne Westwood ”“ both heroines of punk ”“ are planning new collections.

The revival is being helped along by the just-released and much-hyped film of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, starring Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the crop-headed, traumatised gothic punk of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium trilogy.

The film’s costume designer, Trish Summerville, has already collaborated on a collection in the H&M clothing chain inspired by the anti-social computer hacker with a history of awful abuse. “Lisbeth has a ferociousness and fearlessness about her, she does not stand idly by, but rights the wrongs,” said Summerville. “Women can identify with that, they can feel empowered.”

The collection revolves around Salander’s leather jacket and hooded sweatshirts, according to Anna Norling, H&M’s head designer for Divided department, which is targeted at younger buyers. “The look is very wearable, and spot on trend,” she said.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld picked up the theme by announcing last month he had a crush on so-called “posh punk princess” Alice Dellal, the well-connected daughter of a British millionaire. He chose her to be the face of a spring campaign to sell his latest Chanel handbag.

Already having modelled for Vivienne Westwood and Agent Provocateur, Dellal’s tattoos, relatively diminutive height (5ft 5ins), half-shaved head and fondness for ripped fishnets have worked in her favour in a fashion world constantly looking for something as explosive and new as punk was.

Compared to the tall, ethereal catwalk models she is, according to Elle’s editor at large, Avril Mair, a “bit rock and roll”.

Dellal’s rich rebel image is not universally popular among fashionistas, especially after as she has been photographed around drug paraphernalia. One industry figure said fashion had worked hard to get away from the “grungy, druggy image” of the Kate Moss years and had no desire to go back there. Equally, in a recession worse than the one which spawned punk, one buyer for an upmarket fashion shop told the Observer there was disapproval at promoting a revival of a time “when it was all charity shops and ripping your own T-shirt and safety pins”. She added: “The big designers think it’s ‘street’ to sell punky clothes to the super-rich. Actually it’s pretty irresponsible in tough times for anyone to encourage the DIY approach to fashion that punks had in 1977. No one spent any money.”

Thirty-five years ago, respected music writer and film-maker Jon Savage was on the Thames boat hired by the Sex Pistols to mock the silver jubilee by playing God Save the Queen.

“Obviously it feels like those times are back,” he said. “In 1977 the punk rhetoric was apocalyptic and nobody thought it was going to happen, and then by the early 80s it had. That boat trip was a protest against the awful nostalgic way the jubilee was being celebrated, in a way that we felt had nothing to do with Britain in 1977. It was pretty gutsy.”

This year the Queen’s diamond jubilee will be celebrated and, while it’s unlikely there will be any of today’s X-Factor contestants floating through London to stick their fingers up at the 85-year-old monarch, that doesn’t mean the spirit of rebellion is gone from today’s youngsters, insists Savage.

“Bankers and politicians are probably more of a threat and concern to teenagers today. In those days the royals were the apex of English society; now the anger is crystallising around the banks and the economic situation. I do believe youth should protest, because things need to change.”

Punk fashion has long lost its shock appeal for all but the most faint-hearted, according to Shannon Price of New York’s Costume Institute. “Punk was both a product and a victim of late capitalism. As the most quickly digested of all previous youth subcultures, it came to fruition and fell victim to mass marketing in less than three years.”

The irony is that while Dellal and today’s posh punks are being feted by the fashion world, the originators made little money.

John Lydon ”“ Johnny Rotten ”“ the Sex Pistols’ frontman, is financing his next album using money he raised by promoting butter in TV ads. “It is important to realise that in all the years I have been in the music industry the only people that treated me with any real respect was a butter manufacturer,” he said.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. …but are they reclaiming punk? They are reclaiming a 1970s cliche version of punk…and Vivienne Westwood has been selling clothes at posh expensive prices since then anyhow. The ideal of punk was that it keeps changing rather than becoming a caricature of itself. If you dress like a 1970s punk now, then you don’t really have that punk ideal.

  2. I’m not clear what the point is you are making? Is it that it’s a happy and somewhat ironic coincidence that ‘punk’ as a fashion statement rather than a political activist movement/musical catalyst is back just about the same time that we are in the political/economic crapper again? or is it that ‘punk’ is being misappropriated/plaguerised by high fashion and then filtered to the high street for mass consumption and therfore commodified in a manner which demeans it’s origins? or is it that the bourgeoisie have commandeered something and exploited it’s imagery negating it’s social and political context? I think Jean Paul Gaultier was a punk in paris back in the day, Pam Hogg if memory serves came out of the punk movement along side the likes of martin degville, stephen linnard and Kahn and bell and john Richmond/Maria Cornejo, most of them frequented the Rum Runner in birmingham or The Blitz, Pips in Machester, the Club for Heroes run by Rusty egan and steve strange, Kahn & Bell had a stall in the Great Gear Market in Kensington and also sold on the Kings Road just prior to Worlds End opening up..point being the D.I.Y. ethic which seemed to have had it’s genesis in Punk spawned these creative ingenues and they have managed to infiltrate high fashion which was formerly the domain of the ‘elite’ so in their own way they have broken social conventions. John Richmond and Vivienne Westwood both continue to keep the vision they had as students so although the Kings Road post card/snap shot of mohicans and girls with pink hair and mini kilts/bum flaps/bondage pants became the identifier way after sloane sqaure was inundated with ‘sid’ alikes,the main protagonists in the ‘image’ making which was a primary component of what Punk represented are still kicking ass..IMHO H& M’s GWTDR collection is less punk really more Industrial/trent reznor,NIN style with a bit of Christiane f and Tank Girl thrown in the mix..and no doubt those style references will be bastardised too at some point because in the end fashion recycles everything because of the limitations in clothing the human form and the need for the herd to identify itself…just depends how much you want to pay for it and whether you can be bothered to do it yourself..

  3. Hi John, interesting article, particularly as our band of punk rock veterans, The Zips, have recently had our own spat with fashionista’s latest kid on the block, Henry Holland, over his (mis)use of the artwork on our debut single, The Zips ep (1979)for a range of his t-shirts. Debenham’s (his main stockist) website even listed the garments as “The Band – The Zips”. the first we knew about it, was when a friend of the band spotted a photograph of the offending article in Grazia magazine. however, when the t-shirts went on display in Debenham’s, that’s when the real flak began, and we faced harsh citicism from some elements, for selling out.despite several emails to the House of Holland, demanding satisfaction, they refused to respond. so, without the cash to finance a lawsuit, we did the next best thing, and wrote a song about him. the resultant track, Hooray Henry, appears on our recently-released album, 19 Forevva. poetic justice indeed!


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