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Joe Corré speaks about burning his £5m punk collection

The son of Vivienne Westwood and the late Malcolm McLaren on the co-opting of punk, his mother and what exactly is meeting the flames

Joe Corré, the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, spoke today at length about his decision to burn his £5m punk collection this weekend. He revealed that the burning has already begun to deal with the sheer volume of items, before the big event which may take place at locations in either Chelsea, Brixton or Camden.

Yesterday, Corré destroyed an original acetate of “Anarchy in the UK”, and plans to burn one-off pieces of clothing, including a pair of Jonny Rotten’s trousers,  early Vivienne Westwood pieces, a pair of bondage trousers made for him when he was ten years old, bootleg live recordings, rare Sex Pistols tracks with Ronnie Biggs and more. Corré, the founder of Agent Provocateur – whose collection was valued at £5m, but could be worth up to £10m according to experts – says the incineration has been fuelled by punk’s legacy being co-opted by the mainstream.

“We’re celebrating 40 years of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ at a time when you can buy a Never Mind the Bollocks credit card at 19 per cent APR,” says Corré. “You can get Louis Vuitton bondage trousers, you can have punk-rock car insurance, you can go to the Museum of London and learn how to be a punk-rocker, there are exhibitions all over the place, there are books coming out.”

“The establishment has decided that it’s time to celebrate… (But) punk-rock was never meant to be nostalgic. There was an urgency and vitality to it that at the time which was a reaction and answered to the fact that there was a whole generation of people that were completely fed up with the status quo,” he continued, speaking at a press conference today (November 24) ahead of the burning.

Corré has heavily criticised the Punk London event, celebrating 40 years of punk since the release of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”. He claims that having the Queen’s blessing goes against the anarchic spirit of punk culture, and is hypocritical of a system that ostracised and hated the punk generation.

“(It was hated to) the point where the Sex Pistols were banned from the radio, you couldn’t buy the records in the shops, they were banned from playing gigs up and down the country; nevertheless they still made it to number one in the charts, and what happened? There was no number one in the charts that week,” he said.

“People were stabbed, cut up, stamped on, kicked on… and the mayor of London at the time recommended that they should dig a bloody great big hole and bury all the punk-rockers down there – that was to be a fitting end to the idea of punk-rock.”

Corré asserted that, despite the establishment’s attack on punk culture, punks were resilient, and “people found their creativity and found a way to create their way out.” As the establishment – the government, monarchy and its institutions – celebrate the scene that so readily railed against them to change the status quo, this generation of young people are even worse off. 

“If you want to sell all of this stuff, who is actually going to buy it? Going on a banker’s wall, that wouldn’t satisfy me” – Joe Corré

“Today we have a young generation who are facing catastrophic climate change within their lifetime, they’re coming out of university with 50 grand’s worth of debt. Whereas, in the no-future generation of the 1970s, people could be more creative, could live in this city and afford to live here whether in squats or whatever,” he observed.

When asked about the substantial money that could be made from selling the collection, Corré mused that it opened up the conversation for what “real value” is. “We all know the price of a house, but do we know that value of a home?” he said. “And if you want to sell all of this stuff, who is actually going to buy it? Going on a banker’s wall, that wouldn’t satisfy me.”

On the subject of whether cash from selling the selection might be used to fund the younger generation he has shown concern for, he explained the charitable sector has “become a corporation in its own right”. He added that 80 per cent of the money made from the documentary about the burning would go to charities for London youth and environmental issues.

Though Vivienne Westwood was confirmed to make a statement at the burning on Saturday, her presence seems to assert some kind of support for Corré’s actions. He said it was an “opportunity to have a conversation about some home truths” that Westwood recognises. Speaking of his late father, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, Corré said he would probably be “bewildered” by punk’s assimilation with the corporate world, but would find the burning “kind of hilarious”. 

Speaking about the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon (Rotten), who has publicly rejected the plans, Corré related: “That guy has taken the blows and he’s lived the life and everything, but I don’t think he’s had anything relevant to say for the last ten to 20 years.”

Corré was also questioned about how he has himself benefitted from the legacy of punk, admitting that he had in the past sold parts of his collection to fund his business, but bought it back after he had become financially successful.

“It’s not like I put on some exhibition and tried to put myself up as some kind of big authority on punk or something, I sold what I had,” he asserted. “I sold my car as well. I sold anything I could to make that money and start that business.”

Corré was also quick to criticise that the notion that punk remains a platform on which to solve problems. “If that’s the way that (people are) going to have a voice, they’re not going to have a very big voice,” he argued. Though when it was suggested that Pussy Riot are a contemporary punk band who had changed the status quo, he agreed. He also mused over the idea of what punk ‘is’ today.

“If you’re saying that you want to challenge the status quo through your own creativity, and for that to have some kind of effect, then I don’t think punk can claim to own that,” said Corré. “We’ve had many countercultures go before with the same attitude and I think there are a lot of people with that attitude in lots of different places all over the world.” However, he added that the creativity under fear of the establishment isn’t on the same level today, in any movement. “Grime kids, it’s all good stuff, but if you want to actually put all that under a banner of punk and say it’s all related and it’s now owned by the state, well I’m afraid you’ve got another thing coming.”