In the beginning there was God, then the Queen, then New Order. New Order, for anyone unfamiliar with goths, Danny Brown, or the medium known as tumblr, is the band formed from the ashes of Joy Division. If you’re young enough to not be terribly familiar with either band, Joy Division, while running parallel to punk, was arguably one of the first “post-punk” bands; New Order was one of the first post-punk bands to acknowledge a black music besides dub. A lot of iffy stuff that came afterward can be directly traced back to both bands, but the musicians themselves, like Sid and Jesus, were innocent.
Like Joy Division, New Order’s visual identity was formed by designer and co-founder of Factory Records, Peter Saville. From the wave pattern as Dante-esque mountain range of Joy Division’s 1979 debut, Unknown Pleasures, to the haunted floppy disk of New Order’s "Blue Monday," Saville took a futurism and matched it to the new bass-heavy, disaffected sound of youth too emotionally and financially exhausted to revolt. The frantic smashed bottle aesthetic of punk was giving way to a colder and, at least visually, conservative look that both matched and slyly undercut the times. Or at least the latter was the hope and intention. Historical revisionism of “great time for punk music and maybe they weren’t so bad compared to now…” aside, it’s hard to push one’s art up against the combined cultural forces of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The ‘80s were decidedly mean times run by decidedly mean people.
Which brings us to these decidedly mean times. First Raf Simons (2003), then Supreme and Vans (2013), and now the retailer Sandro have all used New Order’s Saville-designed Power, Corruption & Lies LP cover design from 1983 (which used art from the Henri Fantin-Latour 19th century painting “A Basket of Roses”) on various clothing they designed. It famously appeared on the back of a (now very pricey) Raf parka, and was blown up and repeated all over Supreme x Vans sneakers. Sandro included it on a range of tees and hoodies released this week.
Whether you’re a studious Anglophile, a Brit Pop audiophile, or just someone who wants to look like someone the Oasis brothers would pick on, it seems you can’t go wrong by throwing a Peter Saville design on your shit. Peter Saville, with his Joy Division and New Order designs, forever ensured theater kids would know who to sit with in the cafeteria and fashion designers could periodically take a break from coming up with anything new.
The artwork of New Order, especially that of Power, Corruption, & Lies—classical imagery starkly laid across a background best described as “absent”—will always have appeal because it could mean anything, to anyone. Rebellion or fascism or austerity, or all three, packed neatly, never outside the lines. It’s ostensibly counter-culture, but even Saville’s story of getting permission to use the Fantin-Latour painting has a whiff of God Save The Queen patriotism.
(Saville told the Guardian in 2011, “Tony Wilson had to phone the gallery director for permission to use the image. In the course of the conversation, he said, ‘Sir, whose painting is it?’ To which the answer was, ‘It belongs to the people of Britain.’ Tony’s response was, ‘I believe the people want it.’…”)
Pick your poison; it’s work that gestures towards meaning, but that asks nothing of either viewer or wearer, but to admire its coolness. This is not an insult. Post-punk fashion was only briefly following punk fashion, which was in direct response to fifteen odd years of shrill vomitus earth tone and rainbow decadence. A little restraint spoke volumes. And, as we’re once again in the midst of a hysteria that threatens to deafen, it still does.
If Sandro, through its press release and creative director, Ilan Chetrite, wants to pretend the New Order iconography “transcribes” youthful rebellion or “’80s energy” (presumably not the “80s energy” of fired coal miners or AIDS), then they can and should. Think Lana Del Rey and her love of a 1950s that’s nothing but Jimmy Dean and lipstick traces on a cigarette—a 1950s without a trace of Jim Crow or Cold War.
New Order as a symbol of youth’s lost innocence? Sure! It’s as true as anything else in this workaday, fake Banksy on Twitter dot com, Jesus-god-just-look-at-our-election world. At this juncture, anything referencing good art and not overtly calling for the death of innocents goes in the “plus” column. If we’re not going to follow Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis’s example, we should at least wear a jaunty pullover.