How Punk was Institutionalised: The capitalist hijacking of youth contempt by Stacey Richards

Punk has refused to die as so many other subcultures have.  It keeps resurfacing, in different forms around the world in Tokyo, Berlin and Paris.  Why? More than a fad, Punk is a deep-rooted part of British cultural history. As Vivienne Westwood (Westwood and Kelly, 2014) said

Give me a punk and I’ll show you the man.”

One man of example is John Lydon, even though the Punk heyday is now in recess its ethos remains in its first generation and who even now are revered by the current generation of Punk loyalists.

Celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the movement,  “Punk 1976-78 “at the British Library was an exhibition especially focused on punks early beginnings in London and the influence this had on fashion, music and culture.

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(By Stacey Richards 2016, British Library)

On arrival no information leaflets were available for the exhibit, as it was only classed as a small piece. A small leaflet with key images on would of informed the exhibit visitor to understand the thought process behind the curator’s installation celebrating 40 years of punk and how important this subculture has been, not just to the new waves of youth but also many generational and culturally changing effects this has had on the population.

One entrance to the exhibition was up the stairs to the left hand side, where you were greeted with a large neon pink background with black text discussing the exhibition and what it was trying to say. The text was clear and easy to read, although half way through it most visitors just moved on into the exhibition, which adhered to a chronological timeline.

Only after having gone further into the exhibition did I realise I had entered at the wrong point. Having missed the opening pieces, which explained what was happening in British society within the years 76-78.  Some better signage would have avoided this.

Aside from the somewhat peculiar start point, the layout felt fluid and easy to navigate. The exhibition cases felt thought out over the chosen objects and the placement of them. The use of neon highlighter colours through added a nice touch. It drew you into what seemed to be key aspects of the exhibition. It had structure in the order of the items and information was shown on clear white background with black text, making this easy to read.

The objects on show were clearly linked within their cube exhibition spaces, the quality of the items used I thought made good connections between each item used within them. No object felt as if it was in the wrong segment or out of place.

Lighting throughout was dark in areas, which did hinder the ability to read the text plaques accompanying items. Spotlights on key pieces and information of importance felt perhaps like the curator was trying to make us feel like we were at a gig, the main focus being the band in the piece.

No background music was used through the exhibition, but you could hear pieces throughout the exhibition, especially the recordings of the unedited ‘Anarchy in the UK’ track.

The use of the audio headsets at certain points throughout the exhibit gave you the feeling, albeit for a short moment that you were watching The Sex Pistols with its crackling and live atmospheric recordings. The main audio listening station was placed next to a lime green backdrop of live performance photos of The Sex Pistols. Photos were shot on Polaroid film, perhaps trying to catch that spirit of a live gig.

Although the exhibition was interesting and informative, it failed to capture one aspect of Punk, which was that anybody could form a band. It had a social inclusion and an anti-elitist standpoint. This in my mind should have been the whole idea of this exhibition, the deep-seated meaning of the Punk movement between 76-78.

Ted Polhemus wrote (2010, p.132), “..1976 London…where economic, social and cultural conditions gave Punks’ cry of ‘No Future’ a ring of truth and realism.”

The punk movement made their own future disregarding social structures that had previously bound them. Punk says: you who came from the gutter, the roughest estates in Britain, even the middle class, you can become whatever it is you want to be, regardless of your social class stature. The message being: to break the mould and rebel against society, if Johnny Rotten can do it, so can you.

Yes, the exhibition informs you of how Punk started and key influences of bands such as The Sex Pistols in the UK. Does it give you an insight into an underground culture? To an extent you can say it does. It is an exhibition well thought out and although has some brief confusion at the entrance point, it was on the whole an enjoyable experience that did educate you.

Do I agree with punk being shown in such a curated way? The spark, the anger and disdain felt by young people during an era of oppressive society is lost in translation in the context of the exhibition.

The exhibition did try to bring this sentiment in via the audiovisual content but ultimately Punk can never be portrayed in such a serious institutional surrounding. Punk is the uproar of a generation that can only be felt by being part of it.

The Westwood quote above was nowhere to be seen even though it sums up what the exhibition was trying to achieve: to give the public of today, the chance to see what Punk did between 1976-78.

The ending to the exhibition talks about what happened after 1978: how Punk was absorbed into not only the music scene but also fashion and literature. That this particular youth subculture stood it’s ground and continues to influence cultures around the world today.

The most successful part of the exhibit shows a set up of a record store: a whole wall is lined with vinyl record sleeves of bands that were inspired by these two historical years.  The room has listening points for you to select bands to immerse yourself in. It didn’t come across as too corny or staged but genuinely felt as if the curatorial team had taken this end point into serious consideration.

The last piece to this exhibition is clear and to the point, in bold black lettering on the very last wall it simply says:

 Now form a band

 

References

  • Polhemus, T. (2010) Street Style. Jon Swinstead.
  • Westwood, V. and Kelly I. (2014) Vivienne Westwood. London: Picador.
  • Worsley, H. ( 2011) 100 Ideas That Changed Fashion. London. Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

 

 

 

 

 

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Featured Student: Joanna Karagiorgou

joanna-karagiorgouWhat is your background?
My background consists of a mix of various fields. I have a Bachelors in Business Administration while at the same time as my studies I was also studying Ballet and Contemporary Dance. After that I studied Fashion Styling, before coming in the UK for my Masters.
What made you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?
I knew that I wanted to study at the London College of Fashion, so I started researching what course would be the best for me. I’ve always curious in exploring why people wear what they do, what drives them and how that tells about culture and society. This course proved to be the best choice.

vaslan-nijinsky-sceherazade-1912-by-george-barbier

Nijinsky in Scheherazade, by Georges Barbier

Is there a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course?
I enjoyed my essay on the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, which inspired me so much that I continued with the subject for my dissertation. My focus was on the concept of masculinities and how his performances pushed the boundaries. He was the main dancer for Ballet Russes from 1909 until 1916, and while there are many writers that have focused on Ballet Russes in relation to its influence on female fashion, few have written about Vaslav Nijinsky.

 

What are you writing your dissertation on, and how did you decide upon this subject?
My dissertation focused on masculinities, by analysing Vaslav Nijinsky and two other male dancers of the early 20th century: Jean Börlin, who was the main dancer for Ballet Suédois, and Ted Shawn, who was an American dancer. Those three dancers were of great importance not only because of their performances, but because each one of them pushed the limits of the accepted masculinity of that time.

nijinsky_in_scheherazade-1912

Nijinsky in Scheherazade, 1912

What’s next?
Throughout the year I’ve been working on my portfolio as a Stylist which is what I want to do. The knowledge I gained from my course gave me valuable insight on several aspects on fashion, a fact which I think will be important to my styling practice.

 

Click here to read Joanna’s posts on Intangible

Find Joanna online:
Instagram: @joannaa_kr
E-mail: joanna_kr[at]windowslive.com

 

Exploring evolving fur discourses through advertising

By Lindsay Parker

label-me

Luxury, glamour, wealth, status, success, exclusivity; these are the words most commonly associated with fur; they conjure up the embedded cultural meanings that have been established through years of use, regulation and representation of the material. Though these meanings have been (and continue to be) challenged by anti-fur campaigners, with arguably some level of success, fur is still considered the ultimate luxury, unattainable to most and increasingly prevalent once again in the collections of luxury fashion brands.

However, as the industry has faced a backlash from anti-fur campaigners, the allure of glamour and luxury alone is no longer always a sufficient tool for the promotion of fur. In the 1990s, in the UK and US at least, the material began to be linked with unnecessary cruelty and out-dated notions of glamour and the industry had to alter conceptions whilst retaining the elements of its appeal which had been built through years of intertextual discourse.

One response has been the use of technology with new techniques used to disguise and enhance furs, and new colours, textures and forms of fur clothing developed, in some instances, to create even more expensive and exclusive products (For example, Fendi’s silver coated, 1 million Euro Coat).

fashionistas

Fur brands have also updated their image through advertisements which aim to appeal to a younger demographic, referencing “highly energetic, totally trendy and gloriously glamourous fur” (Vogue September 2006) and highlighting technical developments. This appeal to youth can be seen as one of the key elements of furs resurgence in recent years, reaching out to those who have not grown up through the height of the anti-fur movement or have tired of the hard hitting and relentless campaigning by animal rights groups.

Increasing consumer awareness of a vast range of ethical and environmental issues has meant that, for many, issues surrounding what constitutes responsible and sustainable fashion are no longer black and white. This shift is reflected in the appearance of advertisements which promote fur as sustainable, natural and timeless, as opposed to wasteful fast fashion or environmentally damaging synthetic alternatives. For example, the Origin Assured “label me…..” campaign featured high profile designers such as Oscar de la Renta claiming that – “Buying Origin Assured furs removes a lot of questions for a customer. It allows her to buy fur with confidence.” the advertisements are designed to introduce the new label which claims to promote transparency and adhere to strict animal welfare standards” suggesting that real fur can be part of an ethical fashion wardrobe.

Reviewing advertisements past and present suggests that, no matter how established fur is as a sign, discourse on fur in fashion is subject to change to correspond with the ever altering wider social discourses which impact on the field of fashion. This means that advertisements must respond to these discourses, and more recently this has been through adapting existing meanings to appeal to consumers changing understanding of ethical and responsible fashion and by embracing new technologies to shake off unwanted associations with times gone by.

Featured Student: Anushka Tay

Anushka Tay PortraitWhat is your background?
I have a Bachelors degree in performance costume (1st) and worked for several years in the theatre across a variety of roles: designing shows, making costumes, and working backstage. I am also a musician, so my background is essentially in storytelling, whether through clothing or music.

What made you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?
Costume is a powerful medium because it conveys everything written and unwritten about a character onto a body; but it is often overlooked. I wanted to give more consideration to the conceptual and communicative powers of clothing, and discovered that Fashion Studies is a fast-growing subject. It’s an exciting field in academia, and I wanted to be part of it.

Is there a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course?
I enjoyed learning about a vast array of social theory and philosophy in the first term, and the challenge of applying these complex intellectual theories it to fashion and clothing – so often deemed superficial and unimportant. I was also fortunate to be the first student to do the Erasmus exchange with Stockholm University, where I loved writing a paper on costumes in Hitchock’s films.

tippihedren-the-birds

What are you writing your dissertation on, and how did you decide upon this subject?
My dissertation researches the samfu suit (AKA ‘Chinese pyjamas’) during the mid-20th Century. I was keen to explore and apply post-colonial theory to fashion and dress history, in an attempt to ‘look back’ from the Orientalist gaze that I’ve been feeling quite fed up with. A literature search demonstrated a distinct lack of writing on this style of clothing; and even less has been written about the dress history of Chinese people living in diaspora. So I decided to fill a gap.

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I won the Costume Society’s Yarwood Award and the Pasold Textiles Research Grant, which funded a trip to Singapore and Hong Kong. There, I discovered the archive of a brilliant mid-20th Century Chinese women’s magazine called The Young Companion; and carried out oral history interviews as part of my research. I also discovered that my great-grandmother had really great clothes in the 1950s, which was quite surprising since she lived in a village surrounded by rubber plantations in rural Malaysia.

What’s next?
I’ve truly enjoyed studying MA Fashion Cultures, and am planning on continuing the academic route. I hope to research, write and teach, and would like to contribute towards the continued diversification of Fashion History.

Click here to read Anushka’s posts on Intangible

Find Anushka online…
anushkatay.co.uk
Blog: Dress Me Up, Drag Me Out
Twitter: @AnushkaTay
E-mail: byanushka[at]gmail.com

Featured Student: Siân Hunter

Sian Boudoir (3 of 153)What is your background?

My background is fashion marketing, via a strange route of bespoke tailoring and pattern cutting. It took me a long time to realise that I loved writing about clothes far more than I cared about fashion.

What made you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?

Once I’d had my realisation that writing about clothes was what I wanted to do, I decided to find a course that would allow me to explore not just the history of fashion, but why people wear the clothes they do. As a student on the Fashion and Film pathway, I was pleased that my love of cinema could feature in my research and was eager to learn more about the study of film to build upon my uneducated enthusiasm

Is there a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course?
Writing a 4000-word essay on ASMR videos was not something I expected to do on this course, but I am so happy that I was given the freedom and encouragement to do so. My film tutors were all very excited for me to write about something that is only beginning to be studied and I felt supported to take a brave step into the unknown

mackenzie_08
What are you writing your dissertation on, and how did you decide upon this subject?

I’m writing my dissertation on teen movies! Particularly the ways in which makeover sequences in teen movies echo the constant search for ideal feminine beauty that women embark upon from a younger and younger age. I am very passionate about women, and I believe it is important to hear their voices. Particularly young women, who are the future, and sadly often dismissed. Also, because I wanted an excuse to write about Clueless.

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What’s next?

I don’t want to leave LCF (don’t make me!), but while I figure out what I would like to spend several years writing a PhD on, I’m planning on returning to fashion marketing to tell some more stories about clothes

Click here for Siân’s posts on Intangible.

Find Siân online…
www.sianhunter.com
Twitter: @siankayehunter
Email: siankayehunter[at]gmail.com

The fashion archive at Nordiska Museet, Stockholm

Pre-tied Regency cravat, made from silk satin

Academic studies of fashion are frequently theory-heavy, with texts such as Yuniya Kawamura’s Fashion-ology (2004) even going as far as to assert that fashion should not be about garments at all, being a sociological concept. But the clothes do matter: unlike in The Emperor’s New Clothes, we do not go about dressed in ideas alone (Andersen, 1837). In my opinion, fashion scholars shouldn’t forget about garments – and archives are a fantastic resource for accessing them.

The Royal Thermals

One of the courses during my study exchange at Stockholm University was a unit on material culture methodologies. We were taught a range of scholarly methods to best analyse an object, to discover how society has led to its making, and how it embodies its contemporary ideologies. A visit was organised to Nordiska Museet, where we met with two archivist-curators of women’s and men’s historical dress, and the archive conservationist. They had prepared a range of Regency era pieces from Sweden. We students worked in groups to analyse and speculate on the garments, before the archivists told us about the pieces in more detail – leading to a few surprise discoveries!

Regency dresses, for party and everyday

Regency clothing styles are surely very familiar to the British, thanks to the British affinity for period drama of the Jane Austen kind. It was therefore very interesting to see how these cuts and silhouettes were transported to, and translated within Sweden – adapted to cultural temperaments and local climate conditions. We saw a range of garments: delicate woollen thermal underwear for a queen, complete with lace crown motifs (in case she forgot her position? This was shortly after the French Revolution, after all!). A well-worn silk dress in an ikat weave, arsenic green with an inner boned bodice. A sky blue brocade ball gown, worn by a countess.

Scandinavian tailoring for cold countryside winters

My favourite piece was a woollen tail coat, very heavy and strong, lined in thick linen. It was warped and misshapen, obviously worn in winter snows, with sleeve linings taken from a different jacket, and with multiple pockets. The conclusion? It was worn by a fashionable farmer. Surprisingly stylish for work wear, this good-looking functionality is surely an early embodiment of Scandinavian cool.

Many thanks to Nordiska Museet for permission to take and share these photographs.

References
Andersen, H.C. (1837). The Emperor’s new clothes. Denmark: C.A. Reitzel

Kawamura, Y. (2004) Fashion-ology: an introduction to fashion studies. Oxford and New York: Berg

Nordiska Museet website

Dressing like a girl in the 1990s

by Siân Hunter

cher and dion

Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash in Clueless, 1995 (source)

From knee socks to babydoll dresses, during the 1990s girly items of clothing made a resurgence. However, depending on the subculture to which the wearer belonged, these garments held differing meanings. For kinderwhores and Riot Grrrls, girliness was being reclaimed and subverted through aggressive styling and attitudes, while preppy girls aimed to prove that they could be taken seriously while retaining femininity.

Femininity and feminism

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‘Dishevelled kinderwhore’ (source)

The idea of femininity, and especially childlike femininity, has been a point of conflict between feminists — particularly between waves of feminism. Some second wave feminists argued for rejecting feminine fashion in favour of masculine dress (Hollows, 2000). They saw femininity as an obstacle to gender equality due to its associations with subservience and passivity. However, in a postfeminist social order, femininity is celebrated by women and reclaimed with an element of self-conscious fun. Embracing femininity, especially at its most childlike, expresses self-confidence in a woman’s gender identity.

Female musicians celebrated girlhood as a way of creating a female youth subculture, something that had previously been lacking in the male-dominated narrative of youth culture (Wald, 1998). Punk led the way with female inclusion: both genders felt similarly disillusioned with mainstream culture and wanted to express their anger against the status quo. Riot Grrrls took advantage of this increased visibility and created a new image — one of exaggerated girliness, which contrasted with their powerful music that raged against the patriarchy.

The preppy look

vassar student 1950s

(source)

The prevalence of girly fashion during the 1990s has been observed by scholars of media and communications including Alice Leppert (2014) — who wrote about the influence of films such as Clueless (1995)). It is important to note how the average teenage girl, as well as musicians and characters on screen, appropriated this trend for girly clothing. Whether it was the Riot Grrrl’s adoption of childlike femininity to critique misogyny or the preppy teens imitating Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher Horowitz in the movie Clueless (see Figure 5), girly fashion was a significant part of female culture in the 1990s (Leppert, 2014). This trend for cuteness, epitomised by Silverstone as Cher (see above): ‘a ditsy, scrambled Beverly Hills dream teen in imitation-Chanel junior-miss plaid suits, thigh socks and high-heeled Mary Janes’ (Schoemer, 1995: p54), was a reaction against the androgyny and drabness of grunge. With this well-defined aesthetic and prescribed set of garments, girls could own their own femininity and sexuality. Easy to imitate, the look swept America as malls began selling the signifiers of girlhood: Macy’s stocked Mary Janes, baby-doll dresses and knee socks, while Bloomingdale’s made Clueless required viewing for the buyers of their juniors department (ibid).

cher

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, 1995 (source)

Although the items of clothing that are worn are similar — demure dresses and knee socks, for example — the styling of these garments worn by Riot Grrrls and preppy teenagers means that the messages created by the looks are radically different. Whereas Riot Grrrls adoption of childlike fashion was combined with a non-conformist attitude that was reflected in their music, preppy girls were less political and more aspirational in their dress. Preppy style is traditionally a celebration of intellect and academic achievement and adopting such a look suggests a dedication to success.
References
Clueless (1995) Directed by Amy Heckerling [Film]. Hollywood: Paramount Pictures

Hollows, J. (2000) Feminism, femininity and popular culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Leppert, A. (2014) ‘Can I please give you some advice? Clueless and the teen makeover’, Cinema Journal, 53 (3), p131-137

Schoemer, K., & Chang, Y. (1995). ‘The cult of cute’. Newsweek, 126(9), p54-57

Wald, G. (1998). ‘Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth’. Signs, 23(3), p585–610