Joe Corré on burning his Sex Pistols collection: ‘It’s the ideas that are important, not the memorabilia’

The son of punk pioneers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood is threatening to incinerate his £5m collection of collectables in response to movement’s 40th anniversary celebrations

If you’re from Manchester (home of The Electric Circus) or Liverpool (Eric’s), you may have missed the fact that, for the movement’s 40th anniversary, the capital is celebrating its role as the epicentre of punk.

Punk.London, a year of events, gigs, films, talks and exhibits celebrating four decades of punk, launched in January with a £99,000 grant from the Heritage London Fund as well as the endorsement of the Queen and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.

But some old punk rockers are less than enamoured about the festivities. Chief among them is Joe Corré, scion of punk royalty Vivienne Westwood and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who has threatened to burn his memorabilia collection at a punk auto-da-fé in Camden on 26 November – exactly 40 years after the release of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK.

Joe Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren.
Joe Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

It generated headlines and some pointed comments on Twitter along the lines of: “At £50 a bra he can afford to, can’t he?”, a reference to the £40m he received for his lingerie label Agent Provocateur when he sold it to 3i in 2007. Meanwhile, celebrity gossip site Popbitch suggested the idea might have come from Richard Hillgrove, the PR agent in whose company Corré took a 60% share last year. Corré has denied this emphatically.

“My life would have been very different without punk,” says Corré. “The attitude helped me make a success of my life, to find ways within the structure of society to beat people at their own game. That’s what motivated me and still does. Every company I’ve ever set up, including Agent Provocateur, is about that. I wasn’t interested in its value. The money I got for it when I sold up was just part of the game.”

Corré, 48, was barely out of short bondage trousers when the Sex Pistols played The Screen on the Green, in 1976, but describes himself then as “a little soldier of the punk revolution”. He has valued his collection at £5m, but how did he reach that sum?

“Oh, I kept everything. There’s a big collection of clothing left over from [McLaren and Westwood’s shop] Seditionaries. I’ve even got the door handle from Sex, which was a metal handkerchief with a pink enamel logo saying ‘Sex 430’ – the number of the shop on the King’s Road. I’ve got a lot of test pressings of the Pistols records, including the acetate of Anarchy in the UK, but I’m going to burn it all.

Corré’s mother, Vivienne Westwood (pictured far left), in punk days at the Sex shop on King’s Road, London, 1976.
Corré’s mother, Vivienne Westwood (pictured far left), in punk days at the Sex shop on King’s Road, London, 1976. Photograph: REX

“If I hadn’t said it, we’d still all be rolling along saying how cool it all was. Those who felt punk’s ideas are still important would have felt betrayed. Some people are moaning, saying auction it. Fuck off! It’s not about that. They’re thinking about the money and nothing else. The artefacts represent the ideas – they’re in the past and it’s the ideas that are important, not the memorabilia.”

It’s hard to know what his father, who revelled in winding up the establishment, would have made of it all. Corré, who turned down an MBE, isn’t interested. When McLaren died in 2010, he paid for his funeral; his father’s parting shot was to cut him out of his will.

“My relationship with him was strained but, when he died, I’d made my peace with him,” he says. “He gave me a kick in the teeth when he went, but I don’t bear any animosity to him and I’m not motivated by it now. I don’t ask myself: ‘What would dad have done?’

“What he was good at was taking risks. These days, everyone’s worried about their brand. We live in an age of conformity. Burning this gear is about saying we don’t subscribe to those values. I’m sure everyone will have a punking good time, but it’s a comedy.”

Mike Pattenden

The GuardianTramp

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