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Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s Malcolm McLaren

Keanan Duffty plans a documentary on the godfather of punk.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
Menswear issue 03/21/2011

When he was growing up in England in the Seventies—long before he became a designer, even before he joined the British band Sordid Details—Keanan Duffty was obsessed with Malcolm McLaren, the iconoclast best known as manager of the Sex Pistols and the godfather of punk.

A visit to Duffty’s loft in lower Manhattan reveals the obsession never quite left him. The space is replete with original posters, cassette tapes and press clippings that track McLaren’s career, which started in 1971 when he and his soon-to-be-famous girlfriend Vivienne Westwood opened Let It Rock, an avant-garde boutique on King’s Road in London.

Duffty didn’t know him then, but in 2008, less than two years before McLaren’s death at age 64 from mesothelioma, the designer managed to snag an interview with his idol in the Hamptons. What was to be a three-minute interview turned into two-and-a-half hours of film footage in which McLaren let loose on everything from his relationship with Westwood to the crash-and-burn of the Sex Pistols. Now, with help from film producer Dan Honan, Duffty is using that footage to create a documentary, Malcolm McLaren: Spectacular Failure, which will feature music from former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock.

“Students have been really inspired by Malcolm McLaren’s statement, ‘It is better to be a flamboyant failure than any kind of benign success,’” says Duffty, who has shown a clip of the interview at college lectures around the country.

What impressed him most about McLaren was his wild versatility. “McLaren was the creator of the Sex Pistols, the design partner of Vivienne Westwood, manager of Bow Wow Wow, had a hand in the careers of Adam Ant and Boy George and developed movies in Hollywood with Steven Spielberg. Most recently, he was making ‘musical paintings’ and exhibiting them at Art Basel and in Times Square,” Duffty says. “In the tradition of the great pop managers like Elvis’ Colonel Tom Parker, the Beatles’ Brian Epstein, Led Zeppelin’s Peter Grant…he was a true showman. He was also a great haberdasher and arch raconteur.”

Duffty, who plans to complete his documentary at the end of this year and show it at film festivals in 2012, maintains that McLaren’s influence on the fashion community was enormous. “Designers as diverse as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Frank Muytjens of J. Crew openly admit to being indebted to his ideas and inspiration,” he says.

 

From Duffty’s Interview With Malcolm McLaren

About his legendary boutique, Let It Rock:
“The idea of branding…was an anathema to me. I’d been programmed to fight the good fight, create a magnificent failure, so anytime the shop became successful I used to go home to my girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood, [and say,] ‘We’ve got to close this down, this shop is far too successful.’ It’s horrible. I’ve got to keep the door permanently locked. I’m only opening for an hour a day.”

His advice to Adam Ant:
“Work on those three S’s: Subversion, Sex and Style. That’s what it takes.”

 

On the Sex Pistols:
“Ultimately the Sex Pistols had to implode. We all knew we were going to fail; it was just a question of how long have we got and how spectacularly can you fail.…Most people, when they are confronted with failure, they want to go the other way. The trick is to fail magnificently. Then you have a real success. That’s the key.”

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