Shortly after 6.30pm on Monday, waiting for the first of 800 celebrities and supermodels to make their way up the long staircase of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the annual Costume Institute gala, Anna Wintour tapped a young man with a spiky blond mohawk on the shoulder. He wore a red blazer with the words “the government is lying” scrawled on the back.
“You look very handsome tonight,” Wintour told him. “Thank you,” he said, a little befuddled. “So do you.”
It should have been obvious with a spring exhibition called “Punk: Chaos to Couture” that the scenes at fashion’s party of the year, celebrating its opening, would include some of a tough-chic nature. But Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and a chairwoman of the annual event, had gone over the top, decorating the museum’s entrance hall with a 40-foot-tall chandelier made of thousands of aluminium plates in the shape of razor blades. It was a little scary, and was expected to be dismantled by Tuesday morning.
Wintour wore a floral sequin column dress from Chanel and carried a clutch with her initials in pink sequins, raising a few protests among the many, many guests who had spent days festooning themselves with safety pins, razor blades, fauxhawks, neon hair dye, spiky shoes and combat boots. Linda Fargo, the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, had wrapped her silver hair with a band of barbed wire. Actually, Wintour was well within the theme, too.
Andrew Bolton, the curator of the exhibition, she said, “told me this was the colour of punk.” Wintour added, “It’s pink.”
It was quite subversive to see punked-out socialites and models greeting Wintour in a receiving line with the actress Rooney Mara in sexy white lace, Lauren Santo Domingo of Moda Operandi in a long silvery gown and the Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci scrubbed up in a tuxedo.
“That was the longest staircase in the world,” said the British designer Zandra Rhodes, who wore a body-fitting black dress with a coral-pink sash, which matched her hair, wrapped around her waist. (Her hair is normally that colour.) The punk attendants cheered when her fellow British designer Vivienne Westwood walked in.
Punk, as it turns out, makes a surprisingly difficult subject to capture in a museum exhibition. It was a short period, and most of the clothes, as they were meant to be, were ruined.
“This stuff was old when they put it out,” the writer Fran Lebowitz said, after walking through the show backward.