On November 26—the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”—former Mayor of London Boris Johnson will strike a match and publicly incinerate about $7 million worth of punk memorabilia at the gates of Buckingham Palace.
“That’s plan A, at least,” says Joe Corré, co-founder of Agent Provocateur and son of designer Vivienne Westwood and the late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. “The reason I’m inviting Boris to do it is because of his background burning money in front of homeless people.* We’ll invite all of the punks from all over the UK—if there are any left—to come and burn anything that they want to burn, too.”
Corré recently created a stink when he announced his intention to consign to his stockpile of historic bondage trousers and punk artifacts to the flames as a protest against the mainstream appropriation of punk culture. Specifically, it wasPunk London—the official festival celebrating “40 years of subversive culture,” supported by the mayor’s office, the National Lottery Fund, and, according toCorré, the Queen herself—that fired his rage.
“Punk has been a tourist attraction for some time—it’s nothing new. But this is the last nail in the coffin. It’s finally shut,” says Corré, when I meet him at his clothes shop, A Child of the Jago, to look through the collection of a lifetime.
“I remember as a little boy sitting under my mum’s sewing machine, watching her make these things,” says Corré, as he and his friend, the designer and model Daniel Lismore, pull items of clothing from vacuum packed bags. “I remember all the fuss when the police would raid the shop and take all the stock. I remember people getting arrested for wearing them in the street. I also remember, at a later stage, selling loads of the stuff I had in order to start Agent Provocateur and then buying it all back years later. It’s something that’s been around my life a long time.”
The items that emerge—bondage gear, a pair of Johnny Rotten’s trousers, a tiny swastika-sporting Sid Vicious doll—are enough to make even an honest man like myself consider theft.
“When I was a young boy, you couldn’t keep me out of the Glitterbest offices—the Sex Pistols’ office, my dad’s office,” he says. “I’d take everything: all the posters, the records, anything. I was just like a magpie. I kept it and hoarded it and loved it. It meant a lot to me.”
And now, like the bloated corpse of a fallen warrior, it’s for the flames.
“This is about burning something and seeing what kind of phoenix is going to rise from the ashes,” says Corré. “If I can organize it outside Buckingham Palace, then it’s going to be fucking dangerous.”
Here, Corré takes us through the stories behind a set of the items destined for the flames.
TITS. SEDITIONARIES, CIRCA 1976–80
This is from Seditionaries. The chronology is that my parents’ shop on the King’s Road when it was first opened was called Let It Rock. It was all Teddy Boy stuff to start with. My dad used to go to Brick Lane and find old Edwardian waistcoats, drape coats, rock ‘n’ roll things, and we’d sell those in the shop. Then they changed from that into Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, which was much more biker kind of stuff, and then after that it changed to SEX. They used to sell all the fetish gear, whips and chains and rubber, and everything, but also it was where this punk aesthetic started in terms of deconstructing clothes and wearing statements on your sleeve. There was a fusion of sex clothing and punk rock. Then SEX changed to Seditionaries: clothes for prostitutes, heroes, dykes, and punks.
LEATHER SKIRT AND TOP. SEX, CIRCA 1975