You're greeted by a mannequin giving an arm gesture usually reserved for drivers on the LIE. The final mannequin flips you the bird. In between, you've got garbage-bag gowns, graffiti'd urinals, flashing lights, raucous music. Wait, are we really at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
Yes, thanks to the Costume Institute's latest exhibit, "Punk: Chaos to Couture," which runs through Aug. 14, and which the Met no doubt hopes will be as popular as the 2011 Alexander McQueen record-breaker.
The exhibit traces punk rock's influence on fashion, from its birth at CBGBs (the rowdy downtown club with the notoriously grimy restroom) and London's Seditionaries (a shop selling clothing by punk pioneers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood). Both that shop (which looks remarkably kempt) and the loo (which does not) are lovingly re-created based on photos, down to CBGB's disgusting urinals and intriguing graffiti.
Listen. Hear it? Strains of The Ramones singing "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" and "Judy Is a Punk" waft from speakers. Ahh, good times.
"I wanted to avoid all the usual cliches," says curator Andrew Bolton. So you won't see any Mohawks (a hairstyle that actually came late to the party). The mannequins wear all-over spiky hairstyles akin to early punks.
Nor will you see many actual clothes worn by legends like Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Johnny Rotten or the late Sid Vicious. Their torn tees and checkerboard minis would "lose their potency" in a museum, says Bolton.
"Fashion is the first to acknowledge the outsider," says Bolton, so it makes sense that many designers started to incorporate punk elements in their work. The exhibit offers great examples.
Must-sees include Moschino's dot tulle gown with safety pins arrayed in a surprisingly graceful pattern, like flowers or snowflakes. Gareth Pugh's garbage bag gowns, coats and stoles. A Maison Martin Margiela vest of porcelain plate shards held together with wire. Alexander McQueen's spray-painted dresses and Dior's crisp white button-down shirts for men, with bullet holes and bleeding red beads.
Not your standard office attire, obviously.
But punk feels very relevant, says Bolton, especially given today's Internet, "where everyone can create one-of-a-kind content," he says. He suspects today's entrepreneurial DIY spirit, so often credited to the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, may owe more to Rotten and Vicious.
Bolton, as preppy and boyish as they come, is too young (and conservative) to have had a punk moment of his own. But he respects the style, he says.
"They broke all the rules, and let anything be possible."