This year’s Met exhibition theme, Punk: Chaos to Couture is causing some unsurprising sartorial conundrums as far as the Gala red carpet is concerned (not to mention less-than-favorable exhibit reviews). And chances are we’re bound to see fashion luminaries attending Monday night’s fete in ball gowns festooned with safety pins and more obligatory shreds than we can count.
But while this major fashion event and exhibition is taking place in New York and some of the punk scene’s most iconic moments and musicians are steeped in late 70s/early80s London, Los Angeles can't be discounted as hugely influential for its contributions to the global punk movement.
Women including Alice Armendariz (aka Alice Bag of Alice and the Bags), Exene Cervenka of X, Lorna Doom of the Germs and Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s are iconic Southern California-based female punk singers of yore who emerged on the local music scene with a distinct look and brazen attitude.
“Our style was colorful and cinematic. New York punk had that black leather jacket thing going on. That was a little too serious for me. L.A had a tongue-in-cheek thing going on,” Armendariz says of the women who defined L.A.'s punk style. Local acts including The Germs and The Dogs, plus New York punk icon Patti Smith famously played legendary Sunset Strip venues The Whisky a Go Go and The Roxy, honing their look and unknowingly helping ignite a way of dressing that British acts including the Sex Pistols and The Clash started thousands of miles away.
Perhaps it was the Southern California sunshine or the influence of the free-spirited misfits meandering down the Strip, but L.A’s punk look was bold and experimental yet not as seemingly pissed off looking as their British counterparts. Armendariz painted colorful striped eye shadow on her lids and Carlisle and crew sported short plaid skirts and typically “un-punk” grins across their faces, proving that the sound and look had an edge, but everyone was clearly having a good time.
So, come Monday there may be sharp pins and plenty of hard edges, but maybe someone will take a cue from punk’s west coast influence and incorporate some bold color, appropriate showing of skin and above all, fun, into their anti-establishment inspired ensemble.
Here’s a look at the music icons that steered the sound and style of L.A’s 70s and 80s punk scene — and helped pave the way for the next season collections of Dries Van Noten and Heidi Slimane's Saint Laurent, too.
Melissa Magsaysay is the author of City of Style: Exploring Los Angeles Fashion from Bohemian to Rock, available on Amazon.com