When Freddy Mercury had to back out of Queen’s appearance on Bill Grundy’s Today Show, British record label EMI scrambled to find a replacement for rock’s royalty. The solution, a newer group, the Sex Pistols. To EMI's surprise, the cocktail of an infamously aggressive host and England’s most rebellious band lead to British TV's first televised cussing match. While Steve Jones and Johnny Rotten blasphemed their way to the limelight, where did they get their signature look from? Punk pioneer Richard Hell.
In 1972, inspired by the beats and their frustration with the complex, ego-feeding current state of rock and roll, Hell and Verlaine formed the Neon Boys, later Television, the first of the 1970s Bowery’s punk royalty. Hell would later go on to be a member of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and finally a solo artist, solidifying himself as the high priest of the church of punk, CBGBs.
Hell started experimenting heavily with his personal style, moving from knit turtlenecks and long locks to skin-tight, torn garments and ultra-short, ultra-spiky hair. In no time at all, flawlessly fusing the energy of greasers, male hustlers, and anybody in between, Hell had created the core aspects of the punk look.
Soon enough, though, others started to pick-up on Hell’s new appearance. After a horribly botched attempt at managing proto-punk group the New York Dolls, British creative Malcolm McLaren was especially struck by Hell’s personal style, so struck in fact, he packed his bags and flew back to England with a new idea.
Back in London, McLaren and then-girlfriend Vivienne Westwood opened the world’s first punk clothing store: SEX. Selling viciously-distressed t-shirts that depicted scenes from an erotic Disney dystopia to various bondage-inspired apparel, the two had officially ushered in the punk aesthetic to England.
SEX not only curated London’s new punk look, but its music too. Handpicked by McLaren and Westwood, four associates at the shop, John Lydon, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, and Paul Cook, went on to become London’s greatest punk band, the Sex Pistols, and the very lads who brought punk to the mainstream that afternoon on the Bill Grundy show.