It’s only rock and roll and it’s plastic, plastic, yes it is!
“Only Anarchists Are Pretty”. Thank you, punk. Thank you for this milestone in cultural history. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, that most cutting-edge of couples, already knew this in 1974. They were never hippies in San Francisco, with flowers of some sort in their hair, but they did feature ripped jeans in their legendary anarchist boutique. Fast and furiously spot on, after Let it Rock and Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die they struck upon the sensational appellation Sex and then developed this, apocalyptically bold, into today’s World’s End. They marketed and embodied the irresistible wild charm of the anti-establishment. Their grubby robes of office, done up with nihilist safety pins, became a symbol, signifying an ideal far from classic beauty and the generally acceptable. Vivienne Westwood is nevertheless today a very rich, rather trying woman whose customers can be found in the top circles. Gloria von Thurn and Taxis also dyed her hair once or twice and the studded boy glowering over there was just off shopping for new Doc Martens with his Mama and Papa. But punk’s not dead and more importantly, trash is very much alive. Breathing the magic of the underground into fashion takes great skill; the seemingly nihilist surface is only desirable if it reflects the longing of the times. This street style, once so alive, this celebration of destruction and the supposedly ugly has deteriorated into a hodgepodge of granny style, heroin chic and ‘80s zombies. An aesthetic that could have come out of a quarter-life crisis roof party. Born from the financial crisis, unemployment and the pressure to perform, pursued by Tumblr, Urban Outfitters and high-class flea markets, the beards and the pink hipsters run through our cities, somewhere between authenticity and attitude.
In the revolution against middle-class identity, an overabundance of symbols for external demarcation and internal communication is available to the aspiring subversive.
In the revolution against middle-class identity, an overabundance of symbols for external demarcation and internal communication is available to the aspiring subversive. One may, for example – in exhibitionist modesty and/or as a homage to Nirvana – wear an ancient, shapeless, striped sweater, roll up one’s trousers with elegant, dandy ankle pride and throw a jute bag with a pithy home-made saying over one’s shoulder. These symbols, despite all their pretentiousness, share the power of a new autonomy; those who take on responsibility and free themselves from the societal machine. Clothing swaps, not H&M; home-grown vegetables, not Aldi; warehouses, not Ikea nests. At a superficial glance, trash is an insult to the uninitiated, the extras who live outside the subculture. But for the protagonists it is a finely-tuned system of codes, an alternative to gleaming perfection, a creative, playful, sweeping blow, brainstorming from the recycling bin. Is it the ironic citation that makes trash first come alive? Just think back to your own first bad-taste party, initially still just an excuse to live out your taboo ‘80s fantasies. But trash is not just gaudy decadence, it is also the beauty of decline. The act of letting go and the relief of catharsis, made possible by the height from which the tragic hero falls – coordinated with just a spray of “CK Be”, the scent of intoxicated and exhausted supermodels.
After the overwrought aerobic ‘80s and powerhouse blondes like Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford it was apparently again time for the poetics of self-destructivity and the gentle magic of rings under the eyes in black-and-white.
Today you can have all of this at the same time, though it does seem like gloom dominates. Courtney Love now has a fashion line, TV series no longer feature glamorous fashion nymphomaniacs, but pudgy girls exploited in unpaid internships or respectable teachers who cook meth. There’s also a certain cynical zoological fascination for Generation X diaries or, in America, trailer park hillbillies. Studiedly anti-cool, we patronise pubs with names like Hazel’s Snuggery, decorated for Christmas year-round, get ourselves jail tattoos or wear parkas and celebrate Currywurst tossed onto paper plates. Therefore anyone who thinks an urbanite with tramp’s clothes and an iPhone is a paradox is obviously a philistine.