Sex Pistols legend provokes by design

The list of adjectives that has been used to describe Malcolm McLaren, the notorious manager of punk rock band the Sex Pistols, is long, and not entirely pretty. McLaren was one of the headliners at the sixth annual FutureDesignDays conference in Stockholm this week.

He was joined in Stockholm by a motley crew of artists, architects, fashionistas, and other creative types that travelled from all over the world to contemplate the future of design.

“I’ve been accused of being many, many things… a con man, a charlatan, a thief, a murderer, a person inadvertently responsible for turning British culture into nothing more than some cheap marketing gimmick. But I’ve never ever been accused of being an artist,” the sixty-year-old Brit told The Local.

After dropping out of London art school in the early 1970s, McLaren has dabbled in a variety of creative mediums ranging from fashion design to music. And whatever others may think, McLaren considers himself to be an artist – although for him this does not necessarily mean picking up a paintbrush.

“I developed the art of provocation. I got rid of the idea of objective beauty as the classical vision of art. And I turned art into anything you wanted it to be,” he explained.

“What I had gathered and learned in art school, I was just carrying on. You could do it as the manager of a surrogate pop group that you could call the Sex Pistols and you could make these young sexy little assassins go off and create terrorist acts for the cultural good of the planet.”

With a grandmother who loved Christian Dior and a grandfather who was a tailor, McLaren was exposed to fashion at an early age. But in spite of these early experiences, or perhaps because of them, McLaren is very wary of what he calls the “treadmill.”

“I don’t really think it’s an interesting life to be on that treadmill and have to come up with next season’s big thing,” he said.

“If it wasn’t art enough, if it didn’t have a philosophy that had an inbuilt subversive quality and had all the style and sexuality to sell it…it just wasn’t worth doing. I wasn’t interested in fashion for fashion’s sake,” he said.

In 1971, McLaren and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood opened their first clothing shop, Let it Rock, on the King’s Road in London.

“Vivienne just wanted to be a successful fashion designer, and I helped her because she was such a brilliant foot soldier in the beginning,” McLaren reminisced. “And I did that for ten years. But ultimately I had to part because it just wasn’t intellectually interesting enough for me. And to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t emotionally connect.”

Although McLaren was perhaps the most well known and infamous personality descending on Stockholm for FutureDesignDays, he was not the only big name there. Other speakers included Japanese fashion designer Tsumori Chisato and British fashion stylist Alexia Somerville, who has dressed stars such as Robbie Williams and Pink.

FutureDesignDays was initially held in Borås in 2001, organized by FutureLab, a business development and communications agency based in western Sweden. The event took off and was moved to the vast Stockholm International Fairs exhibition centre in the capital in 2004.

Other highlights of this year’s event included the FutureDesignDays Award, which is presented to up-and-coming young designers. The winner of the 50,000 kronor award was the Swedish industrial design firm, FolkForm, with designers Anna Holmquist and Chandra Ahlsell picking up the cheque at a ceremony in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall on Monday night.

Holmquist and Ahlsell experiment with innovative uses of natural materials. For instance, they have embedded a real butterfly in a masonite tabletop, aiming to create a “permanent organic decoration” on their furniture.

The other nominees for the FutureDesignDays Award were Cheap Monday, RAW Sweden, and Norwegian designer Marius Watz.

Cheap Monday, a rock-n-roll inspired Stockholm-based jeans label, has received notoriety in its own right. Last year, it came under fire in the American media due to the supposed anti-Christian messages communicated by its logo, a skull with an upside down cross on the forehead.

“We received some emails stating that we were going to burn in hell,” said assistant designer Carl Malmgren. “But it’s not an anti-Christian statement, and the logo is actually a Mexican symbol from the beginning. It looks a lot like the Day of the Dead skulls.”

Like McLaren, the self-proclaimed agent provocateur, Malmgren explained that for Cheap Monday, it has become “a provocative thing. Like an aesthetic rather than a political statement.”

Although attention the brand received from the Christian right was initially unintentional, Malmgren admitted, “we’re enjoying it.”

Charlotte West