"Me mum lives in Washington. She was so embarrassed with the sight of me, she took a job with an agency there."
Alexander . . . age 16 at the Roxy Club. "You know me - I'm acting dumb,
You know the scene - very humdrum, Boredom - boredom - boredom."
From "Boredom" by the Buzzcocks
They poke safety pins through their ears and cheeks. They link ear lobes to nostrils with toilet chains and wrap their necks with heavy dog leashes, bike locks and metal collars. They wear skin-tight black shiny vinyl pants, ripped garbage can liners, fishnet hose and atiletto heels.
Their hair color is a paintbrush sweep of red, green, yellow. Tribal paint substitutes for eyeliner, and safety pins, nails and razor blades are their jewelry. Swastikas decorate their epaulets, obscene slogans their torn T-shirts.
They are punks and proud of it, devotees of the punk rock music that has popped up from Paris to Los Angeles in the last year. Their territory here is Kings Road in Chelsea, where Saturday afternoons they stroll with friends, checking the new garb at shops named Boy and Seditionaries. They flock to dark clubs when the punk rock groups play a gig, respond when they like something by "pogoling" (jumping up and down), but usually do not respond at all.
They are, for the most, bored teen-agers, legally out of school and hopelessly on the dole, or frustrated factory workers, office messengers or girl fridays or clerks, seeing no reason to expect that their dreary, daily, depressed life is going to change.
Their get-up screams "look at me? and if it takes shock or disgust or even Nazi insignia to get that attention, they are game to try it.Nothing lost.
It is the 1977 answer to the Mods and Rockers, a jolt in the decade-long British fashion doldrums which has sprung from the current depression and a rejection of stiff-upper-lip bureaucracy.
The stance is one of social aggression a Ja "Clockwork Orange" - they sometimes spit or even vomit on passersby - but there is virtually no actual violence.
Typical is Shane Kelly, who has sulphuric yellow hair and wears pins in his cheek. Kelly was ambling on Kings Road recently with his bride of that morning, Bonita, who works in a bra factory in a London suburb. "They think I'm mad at the factory," he says, and for that reason the couple plans to move to London as soon as they find an apartment they can afford it. Others are sticking it out in their small towns, in spite of the ridicule of co-workers and family.
Some punks buy their fashions, others are too poor to wear anything but their altered street clothes, still others prefer only parts of the full punk look.
"I've just got one pair of shoes, one pair of trousers," says Tony James of the punk rock group Generation X. "Sometimes I might borrow something to wear for a change."
But James doesn't wear pins. "I hardly think you are going to change anything by decorating yourself with a packet of safety pins," he says.
He is dead set, too, against the Nazi insignia, the pro-Nazi songs of ome of his colleagues. "Kids are picking oup on it like fashion but I think it spreads deeper than that," he says, citing the lyrics from another group: "I want to be a Naxi. Let's join the Nazi party." "The National Front could walk in and these kids, well, they would follow like sheep."
The name is not on the front of the shop, but it needs none. Inside the walls are covered with mural-size photos of Dresden after the bombing. At the back of the store is (again mural-size but now in color) a picture postcard view of London. Upside down.
The store is Seditionaries - Clothes for Heroes, and if punk fashion has a center in London, this is it. Urban guerrila garb with parachute braces on jackets, jackets with belts that attach sleeves to jacket torsos and tie legs together, suggesting bondage.
They are heroes' clothes, explains Vivienne Westwood, because the new [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "is noble and grand and full of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and romance." She has taken the shop through several life-styles, including clothes for Teddys (a mixture of Edwardian and Elvis Presley), Rockers and porn, to its current form less than six months ago.
Her partner is her boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren, who is also manager of the leading, highly controversial punk rock group, the Sex Pistols.
She opened the store on Kings Road in 1971, changing the clothes and the store's name often to keep up with musical fads. First as "Let It Rock," the store sold Teddy clothes, part of a 1950's revival. Then it was "Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die," a mix of "black, jitterbug" clothes and English Rockers leather jackets.
Westwood later regeared to a shop called "SEX," she says, "because I'm always interested in seeing how far you can push people on a sexual level."
She pushed so far that she was prosecuted for selling a T-shirt decorated with two males dressed only in holsters and cowboy hats. When The Guardian reported the results of the trail (they were fined) the newspaper got 500 letters protesting the verdict. "People were just fed up," recalls Westwood. "Beer prices had just gone up and now you couldn't even wear what you wanted."
For two years Westwood supervised the ripping and decorating of T-shirts "until I really got tired of it. No one was doing it theselves and it took so long to get them expertly done."
She figures that when Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, a punk rock band, showed up in a Pink Floyd T-shirt on which he had scribbled "I Hate Pink Floyd" and wore a safety pin in his ear, and when Rotten's friend Sid Vicious appeared in shredded pants held together by safety pins - they had been ripped by a thief searching his apartment for money - the kids were moved to decorate their own clothes with rips and pins and punk fashion got its start.
"It's the first time since the Mods and Rockers that kids are wearing clothing that evolved from their own life style," says Westwood, who opened Seditionaries last Christmas.
Westwood herself wears a style in red plaid that is currently very popular. The jacket zips in front and the pants have a vertical zipper to give them an optional skinny fit. All the limbs are linked by a very loose belt. "It's bondage clothing," she explains. "You feel very good in them. You feel 10 feet tall."
The jackets and trousers in the shop have tags of 30 pounts (about $50 plus). "If the kids have money, even if they are on the dole, they spend it," says Westwood. "But if not, they are just as comfortable in an old raincoat."
A hand-painted man's cotton pin-stripped shirt is marked with slogans - "I want the world and I want it now," "Anarchists are pretty," "Try subversion" and "A bas le Coca Cola" (Down with Coca Cola - and appliqued with a fabric drawing of Karl Marx and a swastika emblem sewed on upside down. (It costs 25 pounds.)
"It's all part of the shock," says Westwood. "The kids are breaking every myth that was even handed to them. Swastikas are not (meant as) a symbol of asscism though some are taking it in the true sense and mothers and fathers are shocked."
To the contraary, Westwood says, working-class young people believe only in themselves and their close friends. "They would rather believe in themselves because they have sen time and again that the authority is wrong. You trust certain things and they are not real.
"Anarchy. Self-rule. Believe in yourself," says Westwood. "It is the most exicting thing I have been involved in."
At the Roxy Club in Convent Garden the night before Easter, Kleig lights were focused on Generation X. A few punks were posing outrageously, forcing their flamboyant laughter to catch the attention of phtographers from German and Japanese magazines.
Punk fashion already has become a media event with television and the press distributing the language, music and fashion internationally.
The phenomenon came to the attention of many in Britain after the Sex Pistols, appearing on an interview show on Thames television, answered some questions with four-letter responses. The network spent the rest of the evening apologizing to viewers. ("I was really a freak until all that publicity," says one punk from London's suburbs.) As a result the Sex Pistols lost their record contract, but won a sizeable settlement and plenty of free press attention.
Now punkdom has found its way into at least one British soap opera. The imitation has begun.
Zandra Rhodes, Britains top creator of fantasy dresses whose clients include trend-setting women all over the world, has included the look in her ready-to-wear designs for fall.
"It's a social influence even if you don't like it," she says. "Sometimes you have to destroy in order to grow. I find it intriguing."
Rhodes, who has framed her own hair in bright colors for 10 years - currently her bangs are lime green - claims to know about punks only through what she has heard about them, especially from one design assistant. ("You really are what they call a punk? she checks with her assistant by phone. The assistant says yes.) And she has seen a few on Kings Road.
She explains the rips and tears in her $300-plus new jersey dresses as "a new way of handling fabric, like pleating or beading," she says. And stores like Bloomingdale's have snapped them up.
"It's the new declaration of independence," says Adel Rootstein, a mannequin designer whose studio is just a few feet off Kings Road on Shawfield Street. "It's one of the few really new looks that have come out in a quite a few years." Refusing to be shocked, she accepts the safety pins and razor blades as Pop Art.
Keith at Smiles, who has been painting hair until recently including his own in bright colors for four years, says "bright colors make you feel good all the time." It's a way of changing your hair without forfciting the simple cut and style."
The kids scissor their own hair into geometric shapes, color their own or color a friends. For a while, shaved mosaic patterns accented in several colors were the going style. Now it is hair that is longer and painted in one large splotch on a side.
"A lot of people are frightened by it as they are by any change," says Rootstein, who expects the mood of the group to change, too, as the kids get older. "There is nothing more ridiculous than to see the orginal jiving group today doing the same thing they used to do. Or the rockers doing what they did.
"This is a nice little development. At least it's vital."