7 Countercultures Co-Opted By High Fashion

New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn is sick of punk. She is bored with hearing Sid Vicious’s version of “My Way” — a painfully appropriate cover that, in our opinion, never gets old. If she never had to see another safety pin, it would be too soon. The take-home, listeners of loud, snotty music, is that “punk is now a style cliché.” And the idea of Balmain putting a high-fashion price tag on a leather jacket covered in spikes is, frankly, “a joke — and not even a very clever one.” Got that, 15-year-old Johnny, with your ripped jeans and your mohawk?

For our part, we enjoyed the Balmain collection Horyn describes, which manages to balance punk and fashion in a fun, witty way. (In fact, there’s a pair of black-and-silver striped pants in there that we’ll probably dream about tonight.) And considering that designers have played a major part in the punk movement since its inception, we find it both historically ignorant and totally unimaginative to declare them antithetical to one another. What’s more, counterculture has provided inspiration for haute couture for as long as both have existed. After the jump, we review seven movements that have been co-opted, often to great effect, by high fashion.


Balmain Spring 2011, image via Fashionista.com

British punk’s major ideologue and impresario was, of course, Malcolm McLaren. In the mid-’70s, he was married to Vivienne Westwood, and together they conceptualized and created what we now know as the punk aesthetic: safety pins, leather, bondage accents, defaced T-shirts with nihilist slogans. It’s a look Westwood has continued to improve upon throughout her high-fashion career and that has served as inspiration for a few generations of designers by now. So to claim that there’s something absurd about a pricey label finding inspiration in punk-rock grit is to ignore the long history of punk as designer-driven fashion.