As metallic chic jumps from the catwalk to the office, studs and spikes are stretching workplace rules with shiny rebellion. Ruth Gibbs examines the enduring influence of punk. There is no escaping fashion's current obsession with all things metallic, but what makes this hard-wearing trend so robust, and what questions does it raise about femininity in the Noughties? It started three seasons ago when fearsome-looking models charged the catwalks of Balmain and Balenciaga, coated in studs, rivets and buckles, causing a chain reaction that quickly spread to the far corners of the fashion world. Burberry, Chloé and Derek Lam were to follow suit. But the age of the full metal jacket began long before then. Fashion's most potent influences often originate within subcultures, so it is no surprise that the Balmain spring/summer 2009 hard-core hardware, such as chains, larger-than-life buckles, studs and spikes, first took root on British council estates in the 1970s. We're talking about punk, of course. There is hardly a finer example of dress being used to make a statement, but just what was the original "punk statement" and what is its lasting appeal? The essence of the punk movement was the rejection of polite society's offerings to the young working classes. Anti-fashion spelt out the uniform of the nonconformist: heavy boots; an excess of chains worn as belts; ripped clothes held together with safety pins.
The shows of late have seen fashion embrace all of these elements. Even the Mohawk achieved popularity, albeit a tamed version. Perhaps the adoption of metal and its colossal commercial success stem from an attempt to apply a bit of the punk outlook to today's problems; perhaps we're arming ourselves, "tin hats on", against recession. There is no denying the chronological parallels: as our economy got tough, so did fashion. On the other hand, it could also be seen as the fashion establishment offering in hard times a tried-and-tested return to the familiar - the look was first brought to the catwalk by Vivienne Westwood - with the same universally alluring sentiment. Perhaps if we use the same hindsight with which we connect fashions of the 1980s and the spirit of economic boom and, likewise, the floating frivolities of the Sixties with the freeing of attitudes, we might be able to get a better view on the current trends.
No doubt the look's versatility is alluring. Aside from the rebel connotations, there is nothing better for an injection of high-octane glamour than a shiny metallic flash. Spring/ summer's more feminine take on metal set catwalks ablaze. Light-reflecting sheets of gold, copper and bronze meant lamé was in its element at Derek Lam, Chloé and Dolce & Gabbana. But the emphasis remained the same; the tradition of donning metal reflects a desire to armour up.
It seems that women are increasingly keen to make a statement through clothing, taking greater interest in the way they present themselves. Even at work in the most regimented of environments, breaking rules has become a trend. From leather to sequins and, yes, even studs, what women wear to work is dramatically changing. We now prefer a body con pencil skirt and set of power shoulders to a conventional fitted suit in order to get our message across. So if fashion is more about making a statement, studs and spikes cut to the heart of how we feel.
In true punk style, the metal trend has spanned high end to high street, accessible to everyone. And it looks set to continue; look out for the metal obsession's next vessel, the fast-approaching Nineties grunge trend for 2010.