Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

The Met Ball: from chaos to cringe by way of couture.

Photograph: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Fri, May 10, 2013, 15:41


I wrote this piece about the lame punkfest that descended on the Met on Monday.

I’m not sure if there is anything less punk than Kim Kardashian dressed as a Givenchy curtain, but perhaps it’s Anna Wintour in a Chanel floral gown. Both were the outfits of choice at the Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last Monday. Each year, the red-carpet event is used by celebrities to take risks in edgier creations that are perceived as too daring for awards ceremonies. And this year, the ball coincided with an exhibition titled Punk: Chaos to Couture at the museum.

It was a disastrous match from the get go. Beautiful millionaires attempting rawness ended up with none of the fun needed to pull it off, with zero edge to the outfits worn, and all the authenticity of a suburban “super sweet 16” princess throwing a pimps’n’hoes party. Ivanka Trump wore a spiked necklace. Marissa Mayer streaked her hair with colours like a teenager off to a school disco. Miley Cyrus spiked her hair.

Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t get the memo and turned up at an after party in the Standard Hotel wearing a flannel shirt and cap in an outfit that looked straight out of Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighbourhood that made the hipster look mainstream. On the complete flipside of punk, DiCaprio’s turn in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is currently monopolising window displays across Manhattan, with countless shop fronts arranging their apparel around the film’s look. At Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, Carey Mulligan’s face stares vacantly from posters in cabinets.

Yet punk was from fashion born. The aesthetic, led by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren on the other side of the Atlantic, turned rebellion into a far more confrontational image than rock’n’roll. The misguided sanitisation of a genre of style that is utterly dirty, recycled, refurbished, torn up, pierced, ripped, stained and sweated on shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is aware of Wintour’s disdain for cool (Wintour heads up the Met Ball). The successor of punk in fashion terms was grunge, its pinnacle being Marc Jacobs’s Perry Ellis collection shown in New York in 1992, which saw sniggers echo from Seattle all the way to the catwalk. But that phase was to be short-lived in fashion magazines, and especially in the pages of Vogue , when Wintour put the skids on anything that eschewed glamour. In fact, it’s strange that Wintour went along with the punk theme at all, even if it did give her an opportunity to approve the installation of a razorblade chandelier.

High fashion has always fleeced the flimsiest elements of subculture and softened the edges for the purposes of a “look”. Fashion events may be slaves to rigid themes, yet there’s still something awful about Tommy Hilfiger – the god of prepiness, whose Hamptons-on-casual-Friday look spawned an industry of boring high-street menswear – turning up to the punk party in a tartan jacket looking more like a cheesy American cousin at a Scottish wedding than Sid Vicious.
The subtext of this embarrassing masquerade ball is, of course, the ongoing gentrification of Manhattan, and the hipster soil creep throughout Brooklyn.
“I saw white folks in Bed-Stuy [Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighbourhood],” Erykah Badu joked at a Red Bull Music Academy talk she gave at the Brooklyn Museum last week. The barbed comment was met with uproarious laughter from the largely African-American crowd who are all too aware of the gentrification of Williamsburg, Bushwick and now Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The punkness of Lower Manhattan – where Nicole Richie and her shock of silver hair and Sarah Jessica Parker with a Mohawk headpiece took their inspiration from – has been utterly eroded. The former CBGBs has been home to John Varatos for five years now, a shop where a pair of men’s jeans will set you back $300. Inside the Met, the club’s infamous bathrooms were recreated, probably minus the smell. Downtown, the Chelsea Hotel was sold to developer Joseph Chetrit two years ago for $80 million and arguments with permanent residents are ongoing. Dive bars have been replaced with chichi cafes and high-end boutiques. Back in midtown, in Uniqlo’s largest store in the world on Fifth Avenue, T-shirts are adorned with licensed Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat images, co-opting their pop-punk artwork for the masses.

One person did stick out, though. In the absence of Lady Gaga, Madonna emerged victorious. You can take the girl out of the Lower East Side, but she’ll still turn up to your posh party pants-less in fishnets. She was virtually alone in understanding the theme. The event may have billed itself as chaos to couture, but in the end it was just cringe.