A studded shirt whose armholes are decorated with tire rubber and human hair. A dress embellished with a picture of Marilyn Monroe and a dribbled “Piss.” A naked boy smoking a cigarette, reproduced in triplicate and printed on muslin. Snow White being ravaged by the Sir Punks. Bondage boots. Hardcore leather. Chains. Studs. Spikes. Safety pins. Latex. Chicken bones.
All of the above, mixed with rage, spite, and lurid imagination, inform the fearless clothing designed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren in the 1970s and sold in their four shops, all located at 430 Kings Road, London, and called, at various times, Let It Rock (1971-72: Teddy Boy clothes and memorabilia), Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die (1973: malcontented-biker gear), Sex (1974-76: fetish wear intended to be worn in daylight, which resulted in McLaren and Westwood being arrested for selling pornography), and Seditionaries (1977-79: the full expression of the punk aesthetic).
Though most Westwood-McClaren clothes expired in hampers while Mrs. Thatcher was still in office, a surprising number of survivors have turned up recently at the Visionaire Gallery, at a rare and spectacular exhibit called “1 %,” taking its name from a Seditionaries declaration: “The barrier between friend and foe is thin: At certain times of the day, there are only us—we’re the one percent who don’t fit and don’t care.”
Time may have withered hems and raveled sleeves, but the revolutionary spirit of these garments remains undimmed. “You’re gonna wake up one morning and know which side of the bed you’ve been lying on!” sneers a Chaos! T-shirt that once belonged to Sid Vicious, a garment that also elucidates the designers’ (and presumably the wearer’s) likes and dislikes. (Hates include the Liberal Party and television—”not the band,” the shirt explains; heroes range from Eddie Cochran to Christine Keeler.) “What counts is to jump out of the 20th century as fast as you can,” recommends a muslin shirt printed with an illustration from Oliver Twist, a gossamer chemise that would suit not just the dissolute dole recipient, but also an Egyptian mummy or a Victorian prostitute.
Katy Rodriguez, co-owner of the vintage clothing store Resurrection, spent two years curating “1 %.” “Not a lot of this stuff was made, and it really wasn’t sold in the U.S., so it became a treasure hunt,” she says, standing in front of the tire-trimmed “Venus” shirt, arguably her favorite item in the collection. Rodriguez traveled to London, tracking down former members of the Adverts and Adam and the Ants, convincing them to share their clothes with the world; half the things on exhibit came from record producer Nellee Hooper, an enthusiast who’s been acquiring since the 1980s.
Though everything at the Visionaire Gallery is authentic, the renegade appeal of Westwood-McClaren creations has found expression in the contemporary market. “The Japanese have been making forgeries since the ’80s—they love Westwood,” Rodriguez says. “And there’s a guy in Camden Market whose whole business is repros of this stuff. He’s used it for couches, lawn chairs—even coffee mugs.”