As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2013 Costume Institute Gala, which will take place next week in the very un-punk location of New York City’s Upper East Side, is set to celebrate punk fashion, where it came from and how the aesthetic influences designers of all types to this day. On the one hand, punk and high fashion are somewhat unlikely bedfellows; punk, by its very nature, is rough-hewn, grimy and hard-edged. A low-end look, if ever there were one. To be a punk is to form yourself into a person who purposefully rejects the greater order of things, and what is the fashion industry, if not a group of people who have set out to dictate the greater order of aesthetic things? Except it’s not quite that simple, of course.
Fashion doesn’t just filter down from on high to the plebes below; like most things we do, it is, to some extent, a social language, and that means that it’s not just the wealthy or well-connected who get to talk. When the stars align just right, a group of people with little real power can change the whole conversation, and maybe even convince Valentino to put studs on its bags. Back at CBGB in the 1970s, Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone couldn’t have known that their music would ever indirectly help that happen, but they did have the right thing to say at the right time, and they said it as much with their clothes, accessories and hair as they did their music. A visual message is often far more efficient than a sonic one, after all, and the tidy, unified package of both is even better.
I was a high school punk, and as you might imagine, I still have a great deal of affection for the look, so much so that combat boots and heavy black eyeliner are a near-daily part of my getting-ready routine. People who are attracted to such a bold look are also often attracted to creative careers, and in my time in the fashion industry, I’ve met an enormous number of people who probably owned Black Flag T-shirts as teenagers (and might still own them). When you consider how many aging punks help run fashion as a whole, it’s perhaps no surprise that such an incredibly diverse selection of brands and designers have touched on the aesthetic at some point in the past few years, sometimes to incredible success. Valentino’s Rockstud bags, Alexander Wang’s Rocco and its spin-offs and every last one of Alexander McQueen’s minaudieres owe their success to their punk influences, and that’s just to name a few. In today’s handbag market, even in a spring that’s filled with bright colors and pastels, there’s still plenty of punk to be seen, from the old standby of studs to bags printed with misused religious iconography. Below, we’ve picked the best. Now all you need is a pair of combat boots.
Stella McCartney Oversized Faux Leather and Acetate Clutch
$1,515 via Net-a-Porter
This clutch’s aesthetic isn’t inherently punk, but McCartney’s insistence on sticking with her ethics and not using leather in an industry that’s dominated by animal products? That’s pretty punk.
Givenchy Antigona Madone 2 Shopper Tote
$1,085 via Bergdorf Goodman
Mis-appropriated religious iconography is a long-standing staple in punk.
Christian Louboutin Panettone Small Spiked Leopard Bag
$2,395 via Neiman Marcus
Spikes on top of animal print is about as punk as a designer bag can get.
Alexander McQueen Studded Britannia Skull Clutch
$1,525 via Neiman Marcus
Correction – an Alexander McQueen studded Union Jack clutch (the Brits have an enormous punk history) is about as punk as a designer bag can get.
Valentino Glam Lock Bag
$2,195 via Neiman Marcus
Not all punk influences end up looking punk – this Valentino bag is downright sweet.
Alexander Wang Rocco Neon Duffel
$895 via ShopBop
Without punk, the carpet of studs that underpins Wang’s famous Rocco might never have existed.
Jimmy Choo x Rob Pruitt Sweetie Acrylic Clutch
$895 via Net-a-Porter
Lace, particularly black lace, was co-opted by punk culture and striped of its formerly sweet connotations, making bags like this one possible.
Proenza Schouler Graffiti Leather PS1 Bag
$2,375 via Net-a-Porter
Industrial, grungy, decaying visuals go right along with the punk ethos.
Christian Louboutin Mina Spiked Clutch
$1,895 via Net-a-Porter
Punk goes full-on glam? Sure, why not.