Normcore killed fashion week. Fast fashion is killing good design. Kanye is killing the industry. Wah wah wah, cry me a river. It’s almost as though people are so busy with the “right now” that they forget our entire planet is steadily, and wondrously, moving forward in time.
Joe Corré, the son of punk herself Vivienne Westwood, is the latest to get outraged about how much things have changed. He just announced that he’s going to burn his entire punk collection. It has an estimated value of FIVE MILLION POUNDS.
Joe said: “Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream. Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act.”
Of course the crux of his argument is correct, and not an altogether unique complaint. It’s the same voice we hear complaining about gentrification or that “young people these days use their phones too much”.
Punk was brilliant. It had a purpose and it shook things up. It brought people together to fight against a system of oppression and allowed for a whole new way of expressing yourself – both politically and sartorially. But not only is punk from a different time, where people were fighting for different values with different resources, but punk ended up gaining such a broad audience that it became popular. Isn’t that a good thing if you believe in your message and are trying to make change?
There are some other issues I have with these complaints, too.
Firstly, I must admit, that I am suspicious of Joe. He claims to truly care about punk but was born into a position of immense privilege and connection to the scene, and decided that he would take that silver-studded spoon and turn it into a lingerie business.
It’s like a fratboy’s dream job. Maybe punk died because its caretakers were too busy thinking about boobs?
Next, I want to draw comparisons here to what Business of Fashion has been posting about recently – the idea that fast fashion actually encourages new design, rather than stifling it. Fast copycats force designers to be way more inventive at a way faster pace. The burnout is a sad by-product of this, yes, but it’s all part of moving forward in the 21st century. Fashion can’t take what it wants of new technology (e.g. social media) and make the rest of it wait outside (eg. rapid production capabilities).
So old punk is dead? Boohoo! Make a new one! That’s what punks did – they responded to the needs and concerns of their time!
Finally, for an example from New York City (because I am always looking for an excuse to talk about New York City) I would like you to consider gentrification on Manhattan Island. The East Village used to be a creative hub with cheap rent built from equal parts heroin addicts and future superstars. (Not mutually exclusive.) The scene got big, the richer folks moved in, it lost that extra special edgy element, and succumbed to gentrification. Yes, it’s an awful thing to happen for the people who live there, but it also forces that special scene elsewhere – it creates a new vibe, a new set of people, new challenges and new opportunities.
Old hangouts need to die for fresh ones to grow. People get old and young whippersnappers rise up with opinions and songs. It’s exciting and it’s life. Punk is no exception.
Vivienne herself uses her platform for social change. Her “Free Julian Assange” t-shirt is the perfect example of what punk can still be. The beast has evolved. Joe Corré isn’t going to pause time for punks by throwing a huge and wasteful bonfire. Nor should he. Punk means something new now, and that’s a good thing.