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The Met Goes Punk: Inside the Costume Institute Exhibit

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We never used to associate The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Anna Wintour with the scary bathrooms of CBGB's, but that's now changed, thanks to the Costume Institute's Punk: Chaos To Couture exhibit. We stopped by a press preview today and got a sneak peak inside. The verdict? If you liked the drama and whimsy of the Alexander McQueen exhibit from two years ago, we think you'll enjoy this one—and you may even recognize one returning piece.

The exhibit kicks off with a replica of the New York punk club CBGB's bathroom—and if you like your punk American, you'd better take a long, hard look, because aside from wigs that were inspired by Richard Hell's hair and a couple of Stephen Sprouse ensembles, you won't see much more of our country's early influence.

Perhaps that's because of curator Andrew Bolton's British heritage, but more likely it's the fact that punk really became a commercial style thanks to the work of England's Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. (You'll even see a recreation of their Kings Road shop Seditionaries—currently Westwood's World's End. The museum's version looks bigger and a lot cleaner.)

The first room of the exhibit displays lots of early McLaren/Westwood designs, including their controversial punk T-shirts. These are interspersed with more recent couture garments by Junya Watanabe, Rodarte and Balmain, all of which look like they might have been inspired by the pieces beside them.

From there, the rest of the show forsakes early punk garments and instead focuses solely on the high-end designs they influenced. These clothes are divided into four sections of inspiration: Hardware, Bricolage, Graffiti, and Destroyed. You'll see looks from Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, Galliano for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace's famous safety pin dress. Punk's influence is taken to its ultimate extreme by Karl Lagerfeld via a Chanel suit, which a man near us described as "Chanel with moth holes."

The highlight of the press preview—but sadly not a permanent feature of the exhibition—was the surprise presence of the legendary British designer Zandra Rhodes, who mingled with the crowd in front of her own designs. The now pink-haired Rhodes was one of the first legitimate designers inspired by the punk movement. She explained why:
Around the mid-70s everything got very hard edge—it was a case of why don't I try to do something. At the time Vivienne [Westwood] poo-pooed it and said, "That's not fashion." But it's just different. The thing about fashion that is so exciting is that when you look around this room, it's everyone's point of view of the same thing. And you wouldn't even link it—it's taken a lovely museum eye to put it all together and give it a context. The exhibit runs from May 9th through August 14th. Check out our gallery this evening of the red carpet looks at the Costume Institute's annual gala.
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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