In Manic Panic’s front window is an armless mannequin leaning against the wall. It is wearing a torn T-shirt with a reproduction of the Last Supper above the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer. Lying on the floor is a T-shirt with Farrah Fawcett-Major’s picture – but the eyes are blanked out, there’s a safety pin through the nose, and she is saying, “I am a member of the blank generation.” Inside the door, on the jewelry rack, are miniature wrench kits on chains, some handcuffs, and various pullies and propellers.
It’s easy to see why this store (on St. Mark’s Place, next to the old Electric Circus) is considered the first genuine punk store in America. It is the first store run by punks for punks, and Snooky and Tish, the two sisters who own the place, seem to be right for the job.
“We know what we’re doing here,” Snooky tells me, “because we know everybody on the scene. You see, we didn’t start out as designers: we’re singers. These days we’re singing with the Sick Fucks – we played CBGB’s two nights ago – but since people are always commenting on our outfits, we decided to open our own stores.”
Snooky is wearing the same Arthur Bremer T-shirt I saw the night before, except hers has more holes in it – so many that her breasts frequently peak out of the rips and tears around her chest as she moves. She is wearing plenty of bracelets, some of which look suspiciously like plumbing fixtures. “T-shirts are definitely big business,” she says. “My most famous T-shirt is the .44-Magnum Killer T-shirt that has bloodstains and bulletholes. My sister’s shirts are also popular.” She points to the “Last Supper” T-shirt in the window. “She specializes in religious themes. Oh yeah, and this is one of my favorites.” She pulls out a shirt with two pictures: on the front is a man standing on the edge of a building above the line “Despairing End of Man’s Life”; on the back the man is leaping off.
“Why do people like punk fashion? Well, because with punk fashion they can do whatever they want,” Tish says. “No matter how weird it is, you can get away with it. Like these go-go boots: we sell a lot of them because they are so crazy. Also the raincoats – the clear kind with the polka-dots. I sometimes wear them over a T-shirt and it looks spectacular.
“But the problem is that we are getting ripped off by the fashion establishment,” Tish continues. “Whenever we think of something, they try to market it. It seems like they are trying to take our identity away, but fortunately they are never as original as we are. Like the other night, when Snooky and I were singing with the Sick Fucks, we really went to town. I wore a turquoise wig and a nurse’s uniform – the hat, the stockings, everything – and my sister wore a Girl Scout uniform and a green wig. It looked great; her uniform was all dirty and torn, and my nurse’s uniform looked like it had blood all over it. It really looked great….”