Punk Visionary Malcolm McLaren's Sweeping Legacy

Dead at 64, the influential artist is remembered

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The scope of Malcolm McLaren's influence on music, fashion and pop culture is tough to encapsulate. He's most famous for managing the Sex Pistols and pioneering the punk aesthetic. But he also impacted the nascent 1980s hip-hip scene and anticipated the French pop renaissance of the '90s. Above anything else, McLaren, who died Thursday of cancer, was a provocateur with a penchant for all things risqué and anti-establishment. Here's his legacy:

  • A Jack of All Trades, writes Greg Kot at The Chicago Tribune: "He was a provocateur posing as a svengali, a high-concept artist with virtually no musical talent whatsoever, a marketing genius who understood the power of 'branding' long before it became a 21st Century buzz word. He influenced and exploited the worldwide expansion of two inner-city explosions of creativity: punk rock and hip-hop. He also was a brilliant if unconventional fashion designer, a rabble-rousing visual artist, and a vastly entertaining, vastly full-of-himself raconteur. No one who encountered McClaren ever forgot him, for better and often for worse."
  • A World-Class Trendsetter, write "In managing and advising numerous musicians, running clothing boutiques on Chelsea's ultra-hip King's Road and writing music for TV ads, McLaren displayed a gift for always seeming to stay a step or two ahead of wherever fickle transatlantic youth culture was headed next."
  • 'Malcom McLaren Invented Everything' reads the rather hyperbolic headline of a 2007 Vice magazine article. The publication—a hipster Bible of sorts—credits McLaren with pioneering the safety pin, stud and leather style of the punk movement. "Malcolm McLaren is at least partially responsible for every good idea from about 1970 onwards. The trickle-down from the fashion and music trends that he Svengali’ed is a part of almost everything that you like."
  • A Natural Born Provacateur, writes Judith Thurman at The New Yorker: "Malcolm was, among his many gifts, a synthesizer of genius. He was far too restless to be content with or contained by a single genre. Fusion can be explosive, as one knows, and Malcolm was an heir of the anarchists, who spawned the Dadaists, who sired the Situationists, who helped to fertilize the counterculture of the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Malcolm was a born provocateur. Profound irreverence towards authority was the hallmark of his generation, and a hallmark of youth, and, in that sense, he died young."
  • Reviled by the Movement He Created, writes Crispin Kott at Pop Matters: "In the eyes of countless punk rock enthusiasts, Malcolm McLaren has always been seen as a villain, with injecting the urban glam of the New York Dolls with a red patent leather and clumsy politics sheen and being portrayed as an artless svengali by the Sex Pistols in their documentary, The Filth and the Fury, chief among his crimes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.