The “Edge” of Night

Punk in Vogue
(All photos Vogue achives)

For those lucky enough to get that coveted invite from Anna, and have the means to afford the price of a ticket (reportedly around $25,000), deciding what to wear for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala is serious business and a daunting task (and it gets more so each year thanks to its increasingly high profile, worldwide coverage, and media scrutiny). But because this year the exhibition is “Punk: Chaos to Couture” (,  the problem of finding THE perfect thing to wear is even more challenging.

In his cover story which ran in this week’s Thursday Styles section of The New York Times, “Would Anna Settle for a Safety Pin?”, Eric Wilson hit the nail on the head – excuse the pun. He interviewed Cameron Silver of Decades, the famed Los Angeles vintage boutique, who posed the question: “What do you suggest to a client who can afford a $25,000 or so ticket to the gala, but has nothing to wear? We keep running into the same problem, which is that rich women don’t want to look punk, or grunge. Not that many women want to look like Nancy Spungen”.

Mr. Wilson noted, “The Costume Institute gala is many things: a barometer of the famous and powerful, a critical fund raiser for the museum, a testament to the muscle of Ms. Wintour. But it is NOT a costume party”. Well maybe not, but on the other hand, it’s hardly your garden variety red carpet affair either. Whenever I review pictures from fashion’s “Night of Nights”, the last thing I want to see is yet another stream of boring, predictable designer gowns, the kind that routinely find their way into the Golden Globes and Academy Awards (you know the drill: form fitting, strapless, fishtail, etc.)  I expect to be amused and surprised by the choices made by informed guests who, one would assume, have taken great pains to do their homework and consider the theme of the evening in making their choices. There are those who always get it right in my opinion, such as Giovanni Battaglia and Linda Fargo, who confessed to me after last year’s extravaganza, “I love a good theme!”.

On Monday evening, I will be looking for those guests who have the “edge”; striking that perfect balance between “chaos” and couture, adding a dose of customized DIY (a key element in punk),  looking unique, individual, and standing out in the crowd. And it’s not just about ones clothing. You can’t underestimate the power of grooming, hair and makeup. With an “edgy” hairstyle, black nail polish, and exaggerated eye makeup, one can quickly and efficiently transform even the least punk design. I, for one, would love to see Anna Wintour looking uncharacteristically disheveled, sporting a neon colored Mohawk, black nail polish, and a nose ring (LOL).

Okay, so what exactly is punk? When I googled punk, I found many definitions. According to

noun 1 informal a worthless person (often used as a general term of abuse).
a criminal or hoodlum.
derogatory (in prison slang) a passive male homosexual.
an inexperienced young person; a novice.
2 (also punk rock) a loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
(also punk rocker) an admirer or player of punk rock, typically characterized by colored spiked hair and clothing decorated with safety pins or zippers.
3 soft, crumbly wood that has been attacked by fungus, sometimes used as tinder.
1 informal in poor or bad condition:I felt too punk to eat
2 relating to punk rock and its associated subculture:a punk banda punk haircut

As punk relates to fashion: “Punk fashion is the clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, jewelry, and body modifications of the punk subculture. Punk fashion varies widely, ranging from Vivienne Westwood designs to styles modeled on bands like The Exploited. The distinct social dress of other subcultures and art movements, including glam rock, skinheads, rude boys, greasers, and mods have influenced punk fashion. Punk fashion has likewise influenced the styles of these groups, as well as those of popular culture. Many punks use clothing as a way of making a statement. The wide-spread basic understanding/definition of “punk” includes a basic wanting to be different, is who is different”.

Aha! But the same ones who want to be seen as  edgy, rebellious, anti- establishment  non-conformists, wind up affecting the same obvious outward symbols as one another  (Mohawks, body piercings, tattoos, lots of black, clothing with holes, rips, tears, safety pins, razor blades, studs, nail heads, and zippers); the result being that they all begin to look alike. Duh! Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose? (Which had me thinking that maybe if you really want to look rebellious, really ‘shock’ the crowd, and stand out on Monday night, you might consider wearing a Lilly Pulitzer with perfect ‘helmet hair’ and pale pink nail polish).
Indeed, by definition, a “real” punk would not want to stereotype him/herself. Punk is “not just the way you dress but a mind set, a way of life. The way you think and act, and not just the way you look”; it’s a “personal expression of uniqueness that comes from the experience of  growing up in touch with our human ability to reason and ask questions; a:  process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress, and through repetition, flowers into social evolution.” As Riccardo Tisci, Creative Director for Givenchy and one of the Co-Chairs of Monday night’s Gala Benefit (along with Rooney Mara, Lauren Santo Domingo, and Anna Wintour) opined:  “Punk is an attitude”. “It’s fighting for your rights. Not being scared of opinion”. All of which make Iris Apfel the ultimate punk!
By the way, if you are attending the gala tomorrow night there are some things that should put a smile on your face, even if you are concerned that you haven’t selected the most perfect ensemble. You can’t possibly have a bad hair day. If your eye makeup smears and runs, you might even look more authentic; and if you rip or tear your dress on the way to the Met, don’t fret — it might even make it look better.

Credits: Photo 1- Photograph by David Sims, Vogue March 2011 2- Photograph by David Sims, Vogue December 2011 3- Photograph by Steven Meisel, Vogue, December 2010 4- Photograph by Norman Jean Roy, Vogue, January 2010 5- Photograph by Irving Penn, Vogue, September 2006 6- Photograph by Irving Penn, Vogue, December 2006

– Marilyn Kirschner
Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Interesting article. Seriously, though, the crowd there is hardly punk, in any way, shape or form. If true punks cared, they'd be hysterical at the sight of Anna Wintour all punked up. In fact, though not a punk, I imagine it could be quite ludicrous.

    Is AW just pulling her weight? "Let's do punk and have all the women worry for a long time and then show up looking silly"?

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