This is the year of punk. Vogue magazine decreed it to be so, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute chimed in with its "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibition this spring.
When Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Richie and others turned out in leather and spikes for the gala opening in May, the irony was overwhelming. All those shiny celebrities were there in the name of an anti-fashion, anti-establishment movement of working-class heroes. But that was the point of the exhibition, to demonstrate how high fashion feeds off the street and how designers appropriate the visual codes of punk, using slashes and safety pins to sell cool.
(The fascination with punk is likely to continue with the film "CBGB," scheduled to come to theaters in October, with Malin Akerman as Debbie Harry and Mickey Sumner as Patti Smith, documenting the story of Hilly Kristal's legendary New York music venue that nurtured the punk scene beginning in 1973, closed its doors in 2006 and has now become a John Varvatos store.)
Looking at the fall 2013 collections, it's clear that many designers are still inspired, if not directly by punk pioneers Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Iggy Pop, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, then by their rebel spirit. The looks that came down the runways were rallying cries for fierce femininity. Nods to punks, grunge rockers, glam rockers, hippies, bikers and other street-style tribes came in the forms of spiky hair,
motorcycle jackets, tie-dye, tartan checks, combat-ready camouflage, chains and studs.
The best looks were rough, but also refined. Call them street luxe.
Riccardo Tisci's standout gypsy-biker Givenchy collection paired motorcycle jackets or patchwork tartan tops with long romantic skirts in rose silk chiffons embellished with lace. Phillip Lim was also taken with bikers — or, rather, girlfriends of bikers — which translated into lots of wearable leather motocross jackets, vests and wrap skirts with contouring shapes and feminine details, and fun, grungy oversized sweat shirts and sweaters with side zippers.
For their fall Rodarte collection, Kate and Laura Mulleavy took their cues from the gritty scene on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, where they grew up. The result was a magical melding of counterculture styles — hippies, Dead Heads, goths, Hells Angel bikers, yogis and beach bums. Body-skimming tie-dye satin gowns in reds, blues and pinks were the stars of the New York runway. There were also silk charmeuse and sheer tulle jumpsuits with angel wing embroideries on the back, and elongated blazers and cropped woven pants shown with thong bodysuits that exposed triangles of skin above the waistbands, like something a rebellious teenager would try to get away with when her parents weren't looking.
At Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane's inspiration was "California grunge." The super-short leather skirts worn over crystal-studded tights, Grandpa mohair cardigans, plaid flannel shirts, baby-doll dresses and combat boots conjured images of 1990s style icons Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love and neo-grunge stars of today such as singer Sky Ferreira, whom Slimane tapped for the brand's pre-fall ad campaign. And as skeptical as I was when I first saw them, there is something appealing about wrapping up in an oversized flannel shirt, thrown over skinny pants and combat boots. It's cozy with an edge.
Even the iconic Chanel suit was roughed up, with a longer-length tweed jacket cut close to the body, worn with a matching tweed skater skirt and thigh-high leather boots covered in chains. (Those boots are made for stomping!)
At Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld's focus was fur, which he tagged in graffiti-bright hues of pink, purple and blue, in the same way that celebrities Katy Perry, Alexa Chung and Selena Gomez have been striping their hair.
The diversity of runway references was a reminder that more than any single trend, the fall collections were a tribute to the notion of individual style. Social media has ushered in a golden era of DIY fashion expression and empowerment in which punk culture is all culture, every street in the world is a runway and anyone can be a style star. Chains and studs are optional.
Diane von Furstenberg summed it up with a reference to her everywoman inspiration of the season: "She is the rock star and the muse of her own life."