If you share the opinion that fashion stands for more than a glitzy sideshow, that it can – and should – reflect our collective fears and fantasies, then it may come as no surprise that this evening’s Gareth Pugh show presents an austere vision of a world on the precipice of anarchy.
In the months preceding this event, as the designer began work on his Autumn/Winter 2017 collection, creative projects took him on something of a world tour, including stints in Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul and Washington DC (the latter trip purposefully timed to coincide with the US Election.) Conceived in an ambiguous, troubling time, this is a collection informed by the inescapable forces of the cultural landscape. Where the prevailing instinct is to build walls, reinstate borders and reclaim territory. Where the most powerful person in the world is a billionaire demagogue and self-confessed pussy grabber.
That such sensory overload might lead to a stately procession of stark, architectural silhouettes and garments almost exclusively rendered in paired-back and unfussy fabrics, speaks to a discipline of thought. To find such extreme chaos parlayed into a collection notable for its monolithic singularity– each garment expertly executed with muscular control – simply demonstrates the dexterity, strength and ferocity of vision that has defined Gareth Pugh’s label for well over a decade.
Cinematic in scope, this collection finds the designer taking many of his visual cues from that most sacred (and profane) form of image making. In an age of optics, Pugh channels iconic cinematic references as a form of universal shorthand. Drawing on Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, he describes how over these past months he came to be fixated with “the nature of the witness.”
“It’s about fight or flight. The cultural pendulum has swung to the right. The veil has been lifted. As a designer, how do you deal with that? It’s like that moment in Cabaret – “In here life is beautiful!” – as outside the world burns. Do you look it in the eye, or do you look away? That’s the critical question. It defines who you are.”
This collection carries in its bowels the distinct threat of radical extremism. One need only look at the way the designer handles another key reference, Liliana Cavalli’s 1974 film The Night Porter – less a camp classic, than a stone cold psycho-sexual nightmare – where by turning the dynamic of the film on its head, Pugh presents an imposing vision of lethal female resistance. A seething insurgency, collectively tearing at the dark underbelly of toxic masculinity.
One must also consider the soundtrack – an excoriating opus in its own right.Every sample, without exception, chosen by the designer. Each subject to relentless looping and lacerating jump cuts, in a model based on CIA sleep deprivation techniques. A method lifted from the world of “enhanced interrogation, ” it asks us difficult questions while offering no easy answers. Demanding that that we stay awake, in the hope that we might Stay Woke.
Staged in the round, characters move through the audience, wild and bug-eyed –implying wilful blindness, or fair protection against the floodlit obscenity at hand? – slipping through concrete apertures, frame to frame, as though unspooling in celluloid. A cast mostly made up of Pugh’s friends: activists, artists and outliers. Circling, gathering force, beneath the streets of London. As the pussy grabs back.
It’s an audacious play for any designer: a full length opera and a runway show scheduled to debut over two cities within 24 hours. For Gareth Pugh, a designer known for an intense creative method and obsessive attention to detail, it’s an unequivocal expression of confidence and determination.
Eliogabalo – written by Francesco Cavalli in 1667 for the Venice Carnival – opened last night at the Palais Garnier in Paris, with over sixty costumes created by the designer. Based on the life of the eponymous anti-hero, it’s the story of a child emperor in imperial Rome, an obscene tyrant and self proclaimed sun god – a narrative that struck Pugh as oddly prescient:
“He’s an agent of chaos, a crowned anarchist, emerging amid a climate of greed and narcissism. It’s essentially about an empire eating itself – which felt alarmingly relevant. I knew that this was where we had to start this season, reframing those themes against a contemporary backdrop. And then, above it all, a single recurring motif: the totemic symbol of the sun. In one way the sun is a symbol of creation and warmth – an explosion of power and life – but it can also represent tyrannical power and destruction. So I wanted to explore that duality, to show two sides of the same coin, but for grace to triumph over nature.”
That this evening’s show opens with a black sun – a hole, a void – is in part a reference to the impotent fury of Francis Bacon’s Pope Innocent X, his gaping mouth described by the designer as “the ultimate symbol of insatiable hunger and consumption,” his ecclesiastical vestments largely responsible for the shock of purple that surfaces elsewhere in the collection.
This opening look clearly plays to the performative aspect of power, which is a theme that runs throughout the entire first movement, most pointedly via a series of garments seemingly decorated in a form of gold bullion. Look closer and what first appears as an opulent display of wealth is in fact a mosaic design based upon the chaos symbol.
As the story unfolds, this gilded rigour is shattered – quite literally – as regal silhouettes gradually give way to a relaxed earthy ease, and a cast of square-shouldered bureaucrats are overrun by a shit-kicking phalanx, draped in solar strobe.
Signifying a return to the source, the sunburst motif – intended by Pugh to represent fertility, mysticism and a sense of renewal – is, in the designer’s own words, “a ray of light emerging from the darkness.”
This evening’s Gareth Pugh Autumn/Winter 2015 show opens with the image of a lone female figure bathed in red – the colour of both love and war. In a film directed by close friend and longtime collaborator Ruth Hogben, we find a character engaged in a ritual act of liberation, as she anoints herself with the Saint George’s Cross – both saint and dragon at once. Britannia heralds the onslaught, a weaponised woman, hardened and battle ready.
In the past Pugh has described his work as modern armour, and this collection is totally informed by this ideal. His work has always been about beauty built on strength; a power silhouette; a disregard for passing trends and perhaps even a promise of protection. But it’s not without a sense of humour.
Examine the glistening bed of thorns that covers swathes of this collection – both birdlike and reptilian – and you’ll find tens of thousands of hand-cut plastic drinking straws. Listen closely to the soundtrack and you’ll hear the chants of Sunderland Football Club. This very particular form of alchemy represents Gareth Pugh at his most authentic.
This show marks the 10th anniversary of the designer’s label. It also signals his return to London Fashion Week, following seven years of showing in Paris. Although he would be the first to say that London has always been there in the work. “This city is where everything started for me, my entire creative family are here, so it’s in everything I do. It’s my home.”
This notion of belonging is central to this story. Rooted in nationhood, teamwork and family, this is a collection that is at once fierce and full of hope – a description that could stand to represent Pugh and his ethos entirely.
For Spring Summer 2012 MELISSA launches an exciting collaboration with unique British designer Gareth Pugh. The all star presentation took place in Milano, hosted by MELISSA and Gareth Pugh himself at 10 Corso Como, 25th November 2011.
MELISSA, the world’s largest Brazilian footwear manufacturers and holder of an exclusive technology for injected thermoplastic has been active in the market for three decades, garnering worldwide recognition for its innovative work with plastic and searching for and reinventing trends.
Gareth Pugh, graduate of Central Saint Martin’s and renowned for his directional design and use of luxury fabrications such as fur, cashmere, and leather. Pugh mixes classic materials with those less traditionally associated with fashion such as knitted bin liners, rubber, and vinyl.
The partnership, titled “MELISSA + Gareth Pugh” will launch with two styles. The first, named the Ultra, is a chic flat featuring Pugh’s signature print which makes the shoe instantly recognizable. The Ultra will be available in a variety of two-tone colour-ways (black & white, black & gold, black & silver, blue & red, red & white, and blue & white) RRP is approximately £70. The second concept style, Aileron, is inspired by Gareth’s debut Parisian show, a gladiator style flat available in monochrome variations.
The “MELISSA + Gareth Pugh” collaboration first launched in Rio, the home of MELISSA during Rio Fashion Week.
The collaboration went on to Paris, where MELISSA and Pugh hosted an event during Paris Fashion week at Colette.