Malcolm McLaren: Let It Rock

McLaren's long-term partner Young Kim and Dazed contributor Paul Gorman on curating the first exhibition dedicated to the late punk pioneer’s work

Fashion Incoming
Dazed Digital, Malcolm McLaren Exhibition, Copenhagen
McLaren outside Let It Rock, first opened in 1971 with partner Vivienne Westwood courtesy of Let It Rock: The Look Of Music The Sound Of Fashion

Today’s pop-up shops and retail-slash-art gallery spaces owe a great debt to the many faces of 430 King’s Road. When Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood opened Let It Rock there in 1971, it was the first of five legendary concepts, morphing into Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, SEX, Seditionaries and finally Worlds End. “They were basically installations,” Young Kim of the Malcolm McLaren Estate says of the shops, which – along with Nostalgia Of Mud at St Christopher’s Place in W1 – shape the framework of the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the work and resounding legacy of the late Malcolm McLaren.

Shown at the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair’s Crystal Hall and curated by Young Kim, McLaren’s partner of twelve years until his death in 2010, and writer, cultural commentator and Dazed contributor Paul Gorman, the exhibition underscores McLaren’s extensive contributions to fashion. True to the almost happening-like style of 430 King’s Road, the LET IT ROCK: The Look Of Music The Sound Of Fashion exhibition only ran for four days last week, but parts of it will be travelling to Le Magasin in Grenoble this October for Art in Pop, a show about music and its relationship with the arts and the individuals who embody this crossover.

Fashion was always in McLaren’s blood. His mother and stepfather ran womenswear label Eve Edwards, where McLaren and his brother worked as teenagers, and his grandfather was a master tailor on Savile Row. “He told me when he was a little boy his grandfather used to cut the suits at home on the table and he’d watch. Sometimes, his grandparents would make a suit for Malcolm out of the scraps,” Kim says. After leaving home at 16, McLaren attended several art colleges. “He also quickly realised the potency of popular music and fashion. Once you put the two together you get some kind of combustion,” Paul Gorman says.

Dazed Digital, Malcolm McLaren Exhibition, Copenhagen
Let It Rock: The Look Of Music The Sound Of Fashion Photography by Jean-François Carly

As a fashion designer, filmmaker, musical artist (Duck Rock, Waltz Darling, Paris and Fans) and band creator mastermind of the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, McLaren transcends traditional vocational labelling. “This is why he’s interesting. He’s a kind of wriggling identity, very un-pin downable,” Gorman notes. “No one understood what he did or what he was,” Kim adds, which is why she and Gorman wanted to do the exhibition. “Some people thought he was a shop manager or a band manager. Obviously he did those things as well but he was creatively involved with everything. Like so many contemporary artists today, he expressed himself in many different ways. Back then no one did that. The step before Malcolm is really Warhol.”

Put together in under three months with pieces from the Malcolm McLaren Estate and loans from the likes of Marco Pirroni and Kim Jones, the exhibition traces the evolution of McLaren’s interests and universe alongside a selection of the key looks he designed with Vivienne Westwood. While some of the pieces have been shown before, the exhibition feels like a new, immersive and unique journey into McLaren’s imagination. Set to a soundtrack of his favourite music and filled with previously unseen ephemera like shop posters, rare photographs, film clips and McLaren’s personal notebooks, filled with scribbles on band name ideas and promotional t-shirts, the show moves from his Teddy Boy connection through his fetish, punk, New Romanticism and hip hop obsessions. “He was always interested in outsiders. He thought the artist was the ultimate outsider, a criminal,” Kim notes.

Throughout the exhibition, you get an impression of a multi-talented, witty creative who perhaps didn’t set out to be provocative. He just was. “You’re totally right. That’s very true,” Kim says. “It was just something he thought was exciting and he decided to do something with it. He thought it might annoy somebody but it wasn’t the goal. The goal was the idea. It wasn’t so self-conscious. It was about creating something rather than just getting attention. Art was who he was.” Gorman agrees: “He was quite surprised that people took him at face value because a lot of this is artifice and performance, performativity,” he notes. “Malcolm loved anything new,” Kim adds. “He was a complete fashion victim in that way,” she says, smiling.

For more Malcolm McLaren, visit Art in Pop at Le Magasin, Grenoble from October 11th 2014 until January 4th 2015.

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