As Vogue and the Costume Institute prepare to merge punk and high fashion at the Met next week, we couldn’t help but wonder what NYC’s real punks think of it all: How authentically punk can something organized by Vogue and The Met really be? In a recent New York Times article, Punk Magazine founder Legs McNeil called the exhibit a “masturbatory fantasy for Anna Wintour and Vogue,” adding, “They always go and try to co-opt what they can’t own.” But that’s just one punk’s opinion.
When you think of NYC’s still-living true punk institutions–pretty much only one place comes to mind (and has withstood the East Village/Bowery’s drastic transformation): Trash & Vaudeville, which opened on St. Mark’s Place 37 years ago as a one-stop shop for all things punk and rock & roll–from creepers to Dr. Martens to rock t-shirts to super tight jeans to studded leather vests. Everyone from The Ramones to Bruce Springsteen to Madonna to Iggy Pop to Debbie Harry was a regular–and many of them still are.
If there is a living embodiment of Trash & Vaudeville, it’s the store’s buyer, manager and (unofficial) face Jimmy Webb, who’s worked there since he was a 16-year-old runaway and has become a bit of a legend in his own right. When we stopped by earlier this week, Webb, still punk to his core, was clad in his signature tight jeans, tank top, leather vest and assortment of necklaces and bracelets. He assured us he has nothing against what Vogue and the Met are trying to do. In fact, he’s been working with them on preparations for the big event. While he couldn’t give us too many details, we get the sense the store is helping to dress some of the guests and may have some pieces featured in the exhibition.
“If they ran out of original creepers they would come here, or if they needed authentic, more street accessories to go with the big high-end designer clothes they’re going to use,” said Webb, referring to Vogue, who he says pulls from the store all the time.
An even less likely recent visitor: Tommy Hilfiger. “You know, Tommy Hilfiger was in here the other day, and he’s always come in here on and off and he’s always given us our props. I happen to know who he’s taking to the gala ‘cause they’re good friends of mine, and good customers here at the store and I don’t even know if I should say that.” Sounds like he’s taking a rock band? Let the guessing games begin… (It actually sounds like we can expect a few rockers at the gala this year–Webb told us Lee Rocker from Rockabilly band The Stray Cats was in the store the other day picking up a pair of Creepers to wear to the event.)
“I don’t really have a problem with it,” Webb continued. “It’s like not having a problem with Hot Topic selling bondage pants in Ohio; you can’t take the authenticity of what we do away, and you have to take a great bow to Vivienne Westwood, who’s a big part of it. So it is what is.”
Overall, Webb, who might be one of the most enthusiastic, positive people we’ve ever met, seems to get a kick out of the collision of worlds. The store associate helping Vogue pull things for the Met, Webb explained, was “the most authentic punk rock boy…that goes out and does a killer punk rock show every night and then comes to work and is on his toes after going out.”
Webb says it’s maintaining this sense of authenticity despite changing times that’s kept Trash & Vaudeville–and its spirit–alive for so many years. “I went to see Iggy Pop and Cheap Trick yesterday, and that’s what Trash & Vaudeville is.” He elaborated: “I think not giving up the fight, being the real deal when it comes to punk rock. It shakes me up a little seeing the streets so different, but I always say, ‘You can pave the streets with gold, but you can’t take what it is away from it.’ There’s people like me or my boss around that just remember all of it and it keeps us alive. We’re the real deal. You can’t kill it. Can you kill an Iggy Pop? Can you kill a Debbie Harry? We’re not easy to kill.’
Not that anyone wants to–if anything, a new generation of young people come to Trash & Vaudeville to emulate them (or, maybe, new celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who can be seen prancing around Hollywood in creepers and ripped t-shirts). Meaning the customer is there–she’s just not necessarily as authentic as she was back in the day. “There were not Instagrams that told you how to dress,” explained Webb. “I don’t even look in the mirror, I don’t even have a mirror in my house except to shave in before I come here and I’m hardly going to look on a computer. I mean, I understand the reason for stylists to pick a big rack of clothes, but then you go pick your own thing that makes your heart full and that doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s what we keep alive here.”