Back in March of this year, the son of two of punk’s trailblazers, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, announced he was going to burn his entire collection of punk memorabilia in a show of defiance against the establishment.
Joe Corré, who founded the luxury lingerie brand Agent Provocateur, before selling it for £60 million in 2007, will torch his collection – valued at between £5 and £10 million – at a yet-to-be-decided London location, on Saturday 26 November, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK being released.
What’s drawn his ire is that the establishment’s attitude to punk has come full circle since the 70s: rather than it being reviled as a dangerous counter-culture that offended the core of British values, whatever they are, it’s now celebrated and viewed with fond nostalgia through exhibitions like Punk London.
So what’s got Joe itching to torch the lot? To find out, we went to a press conference he held in the days before the Great Punk Bonfire of 2016, and here’s what we learned.
Corré says each generation faces its own set of problems
Corré: “There was a whole generation of people that were completely fed up with the status quo. We were hated across all creeds and classes to the point that the Sex Pistols were banned from the radio and you couldn’t buy the records in the shops. My parents’ shop [punk fashion boutique SEX] was smashed up every weekend. The Mayor of London at the time recommended that we dig a bloody great big hole and bury all the punk rockers down it. Out of that people found their creativity. But today, we have a young generation facing catastrophic climate change and coming out of university riddled with 50 grand’s worth of debt. In the 1970s, people could be more creative and they could afford to live in this city, whether it was in squats or whatever. We know the solutions to the problems young people face are not going to be solved by a new generation of bankers which is what you’re going to get with people taking choices for corporate careers so they know they can pay off the debt they’re going to get themselves into.”
Modern punk is pointless, apparently
“If [punk] is the way [young people] are going to have a voice, they don’t have a very big voice. Who the hell cares? Name me any one of them [bands] that’s managed to do anything that’s been a challenge to the status quo? (At this point, another attendee interjects: “Pussy Riot?”) Hmm, I guess that’s true.”
He sold a bunch of punk stuff to fund his business
“When I started Agent Provocateur I had no money, and the only thing I had as a kind of currency was this collection. So I sold it at that time to raise money for the business, and years later when I sold the company I ended up buying it back. It’s been this hoard that follows me around for a long time. In that respect I will not burn all of it, because some of those things are personal and they don’t mean anything to anyone else, but they mean something to me. As for the rest of it, I’ve been wondering for a long time what to do with it all, and I think this is the right opportunity to say, ‘punk is dead, stop conning a younger generation that it somehow has any currency to deal with the issues they face’.”
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He won’t sell his collection for charity, but he will donate the proceeds of the accompanying documentary
“I have to say that in my lifetime, I have witnessed the sell-off of every asset that this country ever owned, to the extent where the job of the state is now taken up by the charitable sector. You have charities where people are earning £250,000 a year to sit on the board. These things have become corporations in their own right. I must add at this point that the documentary we are making, 80% of all the profits and income from that will go to help London youth, and in particular climate change and environmental issues.”
He’d rather burn his stuff than give it to punk fans
“I think the die hard fans are confused. Why would I give it to them? They’re just conformists in another uniform. Who cares about being a die hard fan of something that’s over?”
So what have we learned from this? What we appear to be witnessing are the actions of a bored, grumpy millionaire who has nothing better to do that simply throw his toys out of the pram, douse them in petrol and set them on fire. Well, not all of them. He’s admitted he’s keeping some of the good stuff. Basically, Corré is acting like a hypocrite who has benefited from the mainstream warming to punk and allowing his mother to build a hugely profitable fashion brand. The really punk thing to do would be to donate the lot to charity, or at least do something with it that furthers the cause punk started: social change. He could probably pay off 100 students’ debts or make a generous donation to climate change research instead of making Central London warmer for an hour. Ever get the feeling you’ve been heated?