“Malcolm has always been totally fascinated by clothes. They’re the most important thing in his life, really” said Vivienne Westwood of her then boyfriend Malcolm McClaren. Although perhaps an overstatement, it is true that this original impresario of punk music helped change the way we think about fashion. After the recent sad news of McClaren’s death, George Walker looks at how the man behind the Sex Pistols brought a potent blend of rebellion, outrage and creative spontaneity to British culture over his 64 years.

McClaren was best known as the manager of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls – two bands that made fashion an intrinsic part of their image. In fact, when many of us think of these bands it isn’t usually a tune that comes to mind, it’s the image of a pierced Johnny Rotten wearing a slashed ‘God Save the Queen’ T-shirt; or it’s  the androgynous glam-rock stylings of the New York Dolls.

What some people don’t know, however, is that McClaren was originally involved in the world of fashion, working alongside the great dame of anti-authoritarian style, Vivienne Westwood. Of that time working with Vivienne he said: “I was excited by this idea of taking culture to the streets and changing the whole way of life, using culture as a way of making trouble.”

And make trouble he did. In 1965 Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood sent shockwaves through British culture, shaking the traditional fashion houses to their rafters. Today we still feel the aftershocks, with British street style being perhaps the most distinctive and adventurous in the world. Punk style made us realise we really could wear what we wanted.

The pair first set up shop with Let it Rock at 430, Kings Road in London. They originally began by pulling apart suits from the Fifties to remake them with an edge of eccentricity. Teddy-boy style, zoot suits and drainpipe trousers kitted out the music and fashion-loving customers at Let it Rock in what was perhaps the first real steps towards dressing vintage. McClaren and Westwood embraced the fact that fashion was not just about looking forward, it was also about looking back.

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One Response

  1. Liz K

    I really enjoyed reading this, whatever your opinions on McClaren you can’t deny his influence.