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 was Punk London—the official festival celebrating "40 years of subversive culture," supported by the mayor's office, the National Lottery Fund, and, according to Corré, 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
This needs bloody fixing. This is one of my mum's skirts, from SEX. My mum used to work with a lot of people doing homework—making stuff for the shop at home—and the bikers and the Hell's Angels used to do a lot of the studding and leather stuff. People with names like Red Baron. The flat was full of people like that.
SNOW WHITE. SEDITIONARIES, CIRCA 1976-80
This is a muslin shirt from Seditionaries. There are lots of famous prints from that time. Things like Snow White with tits and cowboys with their cocks out. It was really about taking all of the references that were kind of sacred—Walt Disney, swastikas, images of pedophile victims, gay sex—and wearing them on your shirt.
FUCK YOUR MOTHER. SEDITIONARIES, CIRCA 1976–80
When you're a kid, you just wear what your mum gives you to wear. From an early age, I wore those clothes because that's what my mum gave me, but then later on, it was because I really liked it. It got a real reaction out of people.
I grew up in south London, mostly with all the immigrant kids. The media was completely against us and hounded us and hated us and drummed everything up into us being public enemy number one. I was in the house when the National Front came to smash our windows and encircle our flat. When I crept up to the windows, I saw all my little mates—all these immigrant kids—with the National Front smashing our windows! So it wasn't like you were just hated by the Establishment; you were hated by everybody.
YOU'RE GONNA WAKE UP ONE MORNING AND KNOW WHAT SIDE OF THE BED YOU'VE BEEN LYING ON. SEDITIONARIES, CIRCA 1976–80
You've got to decide what you think's good and what isn't any good. Choose which side you're on. On one side, you've got television. That's shit. Mick Jagger: He's a cunt. Then on the other side, you've got Eddie Cochrane, Christine Keeler, the Raw Power Society for Cutting Up Men, Rubber Robin Hood, Ronnie Biggs in Brazil, Jamaican rude boys, Bamboo Records. It's a list of what's good and what isn't.
SID VICIOUS DOLL, CIRCA 1980
I remember making these with my mum. We went down to Clapham Junction and bought a load of dolls. We sat up all night with these girly dolls and got a hot knife and scarred their faces. We had to melt their tits off too. She made him all the little clothes. We had to make hundreds of them. I might save this one actually.
BLACK BONDAGE TOP. SEDITIONARIES, CIRCA 1976–80
This was a really popular item. It was one of the classic looks: a black pair of bondage trousers and a matching jacket. That was invented by Vivienne. The whole idea of bondage came from the SEX shop and was transferred into the clothes. People today think they're wearing bondage trousers just because it's got a few extra zips. No they're not. I used to have a great pair of bondage trousers, leather and pinstriped, that I wore to death.
LEATHER BIKINI. SEX, CIRCA 1975
I haven't got [psychological] issues. This is about making a statement. It's hard for people to understand why you'd want to burn, like, $7 million worth of stuff, so of course they try to find other reasons…
If there's anything that I feel really sad about, I won't burn it. It's a difficult emotional decision and I need a bit of time on my own.
JOHNNY ROTTEN'S TROUSERS
He never liked kids, Johnny Rotten. Or at least he never liked me—maybe because he didn't like my old man. He always got pissed off with this idea that my father used to push out that he had somehow created this group of urchins to be the Sex Pistols. Johnny always used to say "nobody created me," and I think he was fucking right. We couldn't have had the Sex Pistols without him. He was an amazing frontman. You've never seen anything like it. It'd make my hair stand on end just watching him. Later on, he fell in love with his ego a bit, but that happens to people, doesn't it?
*What he's referring to here is the allegation that Boris Johnson and David Cameron had to burn £50 notes in front of a homeless person to gain entry to the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. However, this is allegedly a more recent initiation requirement and wasn't done in Boris's day. Still, the fact Boris has essentially taken a match to millions of pounds of taxpayer money for largely terrible schemes during his time in office serves as just as good a reason to invite him down.
Follow Charlie Gilmour on Twitter.
Follow Chris Bethell on Twitter.