Saturday, January 26, 2008

Outward Bound

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood (British, b. 1941) and Malcolm McLaren (British, b. 1946). “Seditionaries” Top and Trousers, 1977. Top: Black cotton sateen, metal, and plastic; Trousers: Black cotton sateen, silver metal, braided nylon, and black plastic. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Richard Martin Bequest and Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2006 (2006.253.22 and 2006.253.23a, b).

Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s punk designs of the mid-to-late 1970s were as revolutionary as Poiret’s corsetless fashions of the early 1900s. In their promotion of a raw, do-it-yourself, smash-and-grab aesthetic, McLaren and Westwood effectively introduced sartorial post-modernism, with its emphasis on pastiche, eclecticism, and deconstructionism. This ensemble of bondage trousers and parachute shirt is the quintessential punk outfit, highlighting in its crude paramilitary and S & M references the anger, rebellion, and nihilism at the core of punk fashion. It was worn by Adam Ant, lead singer of the punk band Bazooka Joe (and later Adam and the Ants), whose own continuously evolving style tracked the course of punk’s apocalyptic and tribal aesthetic.

Comments (31)

  1. marina urbach Says:

    Deconstruction in fashion, as in art, literary criticism and philosophy, is an emphatic element of the post modern epoch. It is important to note, that there is not a movement as such, called “deconstructionism” and that “deconstruction” means something different in America than in Europe, where it originated in the work of the philosopher Jacques Derrida. In the work of many designers there is a deconstructive element, as well as an emphasis on the process of construction itself and deconstruction indeed.
    Where is everybody?

  2. Laurie Aron Says:

    I was at the Met today (for the new–wonderful–19th C Painting Galleries) and decided to take another look at the Costume Institute, especially when I realized this outfit was very hard to see on screen.

    It really looks like a uniform for the completely self-sufficient brave new world. I’m not sure if it’s the least bit practical–are there pockets to stash your condoms and MREs? But if you’re ready if you think you are, this suit–with its elaborate and very regulation-looking harnessing and buckling–should be more than enough.

  3. marina urbach Says:

    “It really looks like a uniform for the completely self-sufficient brave new world.”
    Good point, but tongue in cheek, I hope. Often what saves the day, is to put every thing in parenthesis and quotes. As most of everything is a quote of a quote, the difficulty, some people had with the two necklaces of Simon Costin and the Bird of Stephen Jones, would be eliminated with the quotes!
    If I could have just one piece of this exhibition, it would be Costin’s Incubus.

  4. Ryan Says:

    Vampire hunting anyone?

  5. Laurie Aron Says:


    I guess we posted simultaneously. I was wondering where everyone else was, too. Without being an expert on Derrida, I know that the term deconstruction gets thrown around rather loosely here. I see this outfit, the shirt at least, as very constructed. It’s a basic shirt with elements built on. Nothing’s been taken apart as far as I can see. Although it says it’s a parachute shirt. Is there such a thing? I thought a parachute was a separate affair.

  6. marina urbach Says:

    “I see this outfit…as very constructed. It’s a basic shirt with elements built on. Nothing’s been taken apart…”
    I guess, “deconstruction”, a “close reading”, does not only refer to the taking apart aspect, perhaps precisely, by adding the “paramilitary and S & M references” to the trousers, it points out in a “deconstructive” mode, how the outfit is constructed, how much it can be added and still be called trousers. I guess parachute shirt points to the material parachutes are made of…I guess.

  7. Laurie Aron Says:

    Maybe it’s made of parachute silk. It also sort of looks like the harnessing of a parachute. I say silk because my mother had some clothes made of surplus parachute silk after World War II. I’m not sure if it was literally silk, or just very silky, but it was cream colored and luscious.

    Oh, yes, “Brave New World” definitely. Two of my kids have just read it, are steeped in irony, and use expressions from it all the time, so it comes readily to mind. But I suppose if the outfit is meant to evoke a “smash and grab” mentality, that’s a sort of self-sufficiency, too. Get what you want when you need it. Like the Halloween when I was a little too old to trick or treat, but put on a costume, and went to a house when ever I felt like a snack (civilized version).

  8. Aaron Raz Says:

    Laurie Aron and marina urbach make an interesting point about deconstruction. There’s a real question about how we talk about objecta and how we talk about ideas; things in the world, things in our heads. It’s amazing that we do talk about a constructed object–a shirt “with elements built on” as “deconstructed,” meaning something that takes apart an idea. Of course all of these objects are constructed; they’re not only clothes, they’re high-fashion one-of-a-kind clothes, one of the most elaboratedly constructed groups of objects I can imagine.

    It’s fashionable right now to treat the physical world as a book which can be “read” and “deconstructed,” but matter will still have its way with us. Also, I share the observation that intellectual deconstructions often are physcially accomplished by adding on more stuff. What makes fashion interesting, I think, is remembering that all these deconstructions are themselves as constructed and artificial–both as objects and as ideas–as the earlier objects and ideas they critique. The blog is an interesting expansion; a floating world of ideas. Perhaps an even more radical element in the exhibit might be to rehabilitate the old “touch table”…of the elaborate construction materials used to build the luminous and insubstantial bodies on display.

  9. marina urbach Says:

    “There’s a real question about how we talk about objects and how we talk about ideas”
    Excellent point. We could go all the way back to Plato.
    It is very interesting and symptomatic that the title of Michel Foucault’s book “The Order of Things” in French was titled “Les Mots et les Choses”: “Words and Things”
    I guess the English language translators felt that, with the French title intact, the book would be less marketable.The fierce anti- intellectualism of our culture permeates every aspect, every manifestation.
    The furthest we are willing to go is: ” I like it” or “I hate it”, period, not very conducive to a meaningful discussion.
    “The blog is an interesting expansion; a floating world of ideas.”
    Indeed!… and democratic, which is great. I hope it will start a productive phenomenon.

  10. Laurie Aron Says:

    Hi Aaron Raz! I am enjoying your fascinating contributions.

    Well, Marina, there’s nothing for it, now. I’m going to have to dive into Foucault. I’ve been genuinely avoiding him for years out of…anxiety? I suppose that’s “reasonable.” One doesn’t want the universe continually taken apart and exposed for whatever it is.

    However, and to wit, the gap between the way we viewers think about the objects and the ideas the designers might have had and often state–it’s always uncomfortably there. It’s like that talk show parody on Monty Python, “Where’s the ambiguity? The ambiguity is over there. In a box.”

    Also, from the little I know about Foucault and his thought-ilk, I imagined it really was primarily about words and things. The different way we use words to manipulate the social status of people, to change the value of objects. I can certainly see the analogy to fashion: AHA! You thought you were looking at a simple black shirt and pants, subversive enough, but look what it’s got on it!

  11. marina urbach Says:

    Words and things, indeed.
    My Foucault observation was meant just as a foot note, all in quotes and parenthesis!

  12. Laurie Aron Says:

    Indeed. The only quotes were, quite appropriately, around the titles!! You can’t fool me! I’m only up to Simone de Beauvoir in my “contemporary” French reading following a long siege of Genet, so I do have some catching up to do!

  13. marina urbach Says:

    I adore Genet. I am reading the biography by Edmund White. Brilliant!
    This year there will be many events to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Simone de Beauvoir.
    I was not trying to ‘fool’ you.
    I was dead serious, when I said that all should be put in quotes and parenthesis!

  14. Dessy Says:

    I enjoyed the museum!!(specially the asian art)Keep going with the good job!
    Best regards,

  15. Merna Says:

    This looks like someone put pieces of a straight jacket together..kind of creeepy

  16. marina urbach Says:

    ‘..kind of creeepy’
    Make up your mind: either it is ‘creepy’,
    whatever that means, or it is not.
    What does ‘kind of’ mean?
    Not much.
    ‘kind of dead’ is neither dead or alive!

  17. Laurie Aron Says:

    If the Edmund White bio is one of that series of short succinct ones, I think I read that one. Else it was another. Fascinating what it said about France’s highly organized if somewhat misguided social system. “L’etat, c’est tout le monde”!

    I read all the novels, but I lagged in the last one a bit, and I can’t read plays. I have to see them, and haven’t gotten the chance. They are so overlapping, but what a unique voice. “Our Lady of the Flowers” really woke me up.

    Genet might have liked this outfit if the collar were to be smoothed down. I remember him as an appreciator of napes. Then, the trousers would have to really fit.

  18. marina urbach Says:

    The Edmund White biography has 728 pages. I just took the book to see how many pages it has and was very surprised to find an article I put inside the book, published in 1998 in the New York Times, about what prisoners in Texas, who are condemned to be executed are asked to order their last meal. I remember I saved the article to show my son, who, when he was four years old, asked me what my favored food was. I could choose only one item. I could not make up my mind, so he asked me to pretend that I was condemned to death and had to choose my last meal. I chose a baked potato. I am so glad I still have the article.
    All these years I wished I had saved it, every time this subject came up. I just read it again, the paper is brownish, yellow. The paper was folded and put in the last page of the book. Two prisoners and their requests caught my eye: Robert Madden, executed May 28, 1997, requested that his final meal be given to a homeless person. ( Request denied) and Stephen Morin , executed March 13, 1985 requested unleavened bread.
    ‘unleavened bread’ like in the Eucharist ritual? Did he want us to participate?
    The last meal ritual in the prisons of the United States is particularly sadistic.

  19. DC Says:

    This looks like something a paratrooper would wear….

  20. captain happen Says:

    Looks like something a paratrooper would wear? Emphasis on the “looks like” I hope.

    Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I always like things were form follows function, not elaborate costumes designed to evoke feelings from the uneducated.

  21. marina urbach Says:

    ‘Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I always like things were form follows function, not elaborate costumes designed to evoke feelings from the uneducated.’

    Form does not follow function in art, in poetry, in fashion and in life itself!

  22. Lil'John Says:

    Loved the show, I’ll come back to the MET and propose to my finacee Jaewon.

  23. Freddy Says:

    Vivienne Westwood rocks my world!
    I want that shirt today!

  24. Kristen Enstrom Says:

    God Save the Queen

  25. Julie Eun Sol Baik Says:

    Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s “Seditionaries” is something I’m attracted to for a long time even though it was made before I was born.
    Their raw and a little roughness, everything else pulled together makes different interpretation possible. The eclecticism pushes and draws a wider range of people to their design.
    Comme des Garcons has done ‘kind of’ their version of a menswear collection reflecting the Seditionaries recently. The Seditionaries is still so powerful, the idea is something still very attractive today which I think is amazing.

  26. Lena Says:

    jizz necklace!

  27. meimi1995529 Says:

    My fave dood band should TOTALLY wear this for one of their photoshoots! :)

  28. Rumistatt Says:

    Reminds me of those randomly designed henchmen costumes for spy comedies like Austin Powers.

  29. richard cooper Says:

    Mr. Alaia is Tunisian and not French as you state in the credits in front of the dress. please refer to the book in the sale area for the book on Alaia if you want to check this.

  30. John Dorcinville Says:

    to wonderful for words…. oh my… enough to take your breath away….

  31. marina urbach Says:

    ‘Mr. Alaia is Tunisian and not French as you state in the credits in front of the dress.’

    Indeed, Mr. Alaia is French, born Tunisia.
    It is possible to have dual nationalities without
    giving up the original one.

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