Over the last two decades, the phenomenon of British designers taking over Paris, has become a normality. One of Britain’s most innovative fashion creatives is 34-year-old Gareth Pugh, who emerged into the scene in mid 2000, causing a stir with his collections that soon became an international statement.
Pugh is known for experimenting with form and difficult materials, for redefining the silhouette and for bringing it into the 4th dimension, at first with his wearable sculptures that slowly evolved into a deeper exploration of meanings and manifestos.
FilepMotwary: You started your career very (very) early on, creating costumes for the National Youth Theater. If I asked you to draw a line costume design from fashion design, what are the differences that separate the two?
GarethPugh: I think that there is undeniably a performative aspect to my work, in the sense that I often begin with a certain character or loose narrative in mind. For me, it has always been more about telling a story, rather than simply pushing an aesthetic, which I’m sure, in part, comes from my experience in costume design. I think this also explains why, when it comes to the show, I’m so fascinated by the idea of fully immersive presentation. That said, it’s important to recognize the distinction between fashion and theater.
The thematic drive of a fashion show ultimately needs to translate into pieces that can be adopted and integrated into real life, and although this is not something that I torture myself with when designing my shows, the reality of what I do is of equal importance to the fantasy that is portrayed- everyone likes to dream as much as everyone likes a well cut jacket, and that’s why we have both a show and a showroom.
FM: Until 2007 you worked solely on collections that consisted of “catwalk pieces”. What it is that showcasing offers to a collection to you as a person and what did you achieve within each of your shows, further that journalistic praise?
GP: Showing at Fashion Week was always something I dreamed of doing since leaving St Martins, but there were no big plans in place to realize this until I was asked by Lulu Kennedy of Fashion East to show with them for Fall 2005. It all happened very quickly, and each season going forwards felt like playing a game of catch up- I started with nothing, and had to try and build things up as I went, as well as tackling the shows each season with very limited support. Selling wasn’t an option back then- the infrastructure required to sell and produce simply wasn’t there for me.
However, those early shows were incredibly important- they represented an very steep learning curve and also helped me to develop a certain visual language- the fact that they we’re never part of commercial conversation was a liberating experience, and I try to approach each season with a similar mind set- its a balancing act of course, but for me- a necessary one.
FM: And then comes “fashion film”, as a way for you to present a collection (which of course worked as a catalyst for many others that followed this idea later). I am sure many people still refer to your first collaboration with Ruth Hogben and especially the film featuring your collection for SS11. Viktor & Rolf did something similar earlier, with Shalom Harlow, yet their film was a simple catwalk movie… Yours was a complete breakthrough, a true visual testimony…
GP: At the time, making a fashion film just seemed like the natural next step. It appealed to me as a great way to show more than just the clothes- it allowed me the opportunity to communicate the world that those clothes belong to- something that can be quite difficult to achieve with a live catwalk show as there are a lot of variables with a live production that are totally out of your control. Ultimately, fashion film allowed me creative freedom and creative control- people would see what I wanted them to see, how I wanted them to see it…
I’m a Virgo, so therefore a little bit of a perfectionist! Also, I think its fair to say that movement and fashion design go hand in hand- so in that respect film is the perfect platform for fashion. This is something Ruth has always understood. In addition to a great collaborator, Ruth is a very close friend. We’ve shared a lot, personally speaking, and as a result we can speak freely and discuss ideas without fear of judgment, which is incredibly important to any creative relationship – particularly when your trying to do something in uncharted territory.
We really had to have a blind faith in one another.
FM: What was the reason you decided to experiment with such medium and how do you see it almost five years later?
GP: I think it’s become one of the most interesting fields within the industry- its a totally new genre, and it’s certainly much more appreciated now than when Ruth and I first started working together. It has become incredibly important to the story of my own label in that it has allowed us to be much more transgressive and present the work in a concentrated, undiluted form to a much wider audience. For example, the film we just made with choreographer Wayne McGregor is a stand-alone mood piece that explores dance in relation to my work.
We made a film last year to support Amnesty International’s ‘Proud to Protest’ campaign that doubled as a pre-cursor to my Fall 2014 show, which was totally devoid of clothing. It was more about establishing a feeling, or a motive behind the collection. Our film for Fall 2015 was more narrative driven, but was similarly about establishing a theme for the show. We knew exactly what we wanted to achieve.
Usually the process is much more loose and dependent on the clothes, but for Fall 2015, the narrative superseded the need to represent the collection – the very fact we were presenting the clothes live, alongside the film, allowed us to concentrate on the emotion and intention behind the work, rather than focusing solely on the work itself.
FM: I would like to compare London to Paris, the extravagance of the first to the bourgeoisie of the second. Why in your opinion so many British designers succeed in Paris.
GP: London is my home- it’s where I live and work and it’s where all my creative family are based- it’s where everything started for me and I love the energy of the city. Paris feels very different, for so many reasons- when I moved my show to Paris from London it was an incredibly daunting and exciting experience- it felt like a new frontier- it was a necessary move. The fact that I don’t speak French really added to that feeling of being a foreigner, and sometimes its important to feel like you’re on the outside, looking in- on the edge of something.
I definitely feel that British designers have a legacy of irreverence. London has changed a great deal since I last showed here in February 2008- it has become a much more commercially savvy fashion capital. However, I think (and hope) that there will always be a unique quality, freshness and irreverence to the work that is produced out of London. After 6 years showing in Paris, I needed to shake things up myself, so I decided to come back to London- maybe that was irreverent, but for me, it was more about keeping myself on my toes.
FM: And how both cities come in contrast with New York, where you presented your work recently?
GP: New York is another world – it’s just has such a radically different feeling than London or Paris. I had a really great time there, and was very surprised that such a different way of presenting a collection- a huge, immersive film and dance installation- was so well received. I was delighted with the show and the with the response. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised – if there’s one thing New Yorkers respect it’s scale and ambition.
FM: In the 1980’s we had Kenzo staging incredible shows with dancers, bullfighters, and ethnic tribes. Shows that went beyond catwalk… Then came Galliano, McQueen and more recently Thom Browne. All these names had or have a flair for the theatrics. This is something you embrace as well. How does your approach to fashion link to the pragmatism of commerce?
GP: The show for me is an entirely personal expression and remains my primary communication tool- I don’t think about whether something is going to sell or not. A fashion show can be a compelling and emotional experience, so I strive to make each one as powerful as it can be.
I’ve always been attracted to images that penetrate, and that you carry with you long after you’ve seen the work, and this means more to me than trying to push product.
FM: What always strikes in your collections is that your clothes go beyond prêt-a- porter?
In all of them you present amazingly crafted pieces, which go further than just ready to wear. How do you perceive the meaning of craftsmanship and how feasible it is to sustain it in the context of a boutique or retail store?
GP: It goes without saying that there is a long and rich tradition of craft and craftsmanship in fashion- its like a love affair- one that should never be broken apart.
Everything we produce at my studio- even things that appear to have a machine edge- are always cut and made by hand- everything has its own rules and processes to follow, and that IS part of the enjoyment for me- its very important to me that this is preserved and to make sure that its reflected in the work itself.
FM: Gareth, is our era defined by quantity over quality?
GP: I sincerely hope not.
FM: How does sustainability work in the manic- consumerism society we have become?
GP: That is simple- buy what you love, love what you buy- don’t buy so much crap.
FM: What is beauty for you? You always go beyond the usual human outline with your garments. You, somehow, re-launch and new type of body each time. Talking about extremes, for example, can a monster also be beautiful?
GP: My notion of beauty has taken many guises over the years, but the thread that runs throughout is the idea of a beauty built on strength. I think the way we appreciate beauty is entirely personal, and always in flux changing and evolving in relation to new experiences and exposure to new ideas.
FM: There was something intensively heroic in your last show. Something very manly! How do you separate the sexes, aesthetically?
GP: I’ve always been fascinated by opposites – black or white, positive or negative, chaos and control- I think the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine ideals in my work is just another expression of that. I’m not interested in what separates the sexes, but in the friction that is caused by combining these two opposites- what this can produce is something that is visually very disconcerting.
FM: Why did you end your show with a flag?
GP: The flag was there to represent a call to arms.
FM: Is there is a methodology or philosophical frame- work within which you work?
GP: The methodology is difficult to pin down as so much changes from season to season, but it is important for me to find a focus- whether it’s something I’ve seen or experienced, or something as abstract as a feeling or an emotion- whatever it may be, this forms the base and the rest is built around it. Each season I like to try and push things- its much more rewarding for me to work to an extreme.
FM: In your opinion, what makes a great designer?
GP: A unique point of view.
GARETH PUGH: A CALL TO ARMS: Interview by Filep Motwary, as appeared in Boycott Magazine issue #3, released in June 2015, along with a photo story by Paul Joyce and styled by Simon Pylyser.
*Thank you Giulia Bernardi @ Karla Otto
Gareth Pugh’s portrait, kind courtesy of Laurie Lynn Stark.
English-born fashion designer Gareth Pugh has received global recognition for his approach to redefining modern luxury. Educated at London’s Central Saint Martin’s, Gareth’s clothes have been described as wearable sculptures – experimental forms, volumes and fabrics are all signature to Gareth’s ever evolving style. A textual mash up where PVC, Perspex and parachute silk meet luxury mink, leather and cashmere. Gareth made his London Fashion Week debut in February 2005, as part of the Fashion East line-up. His first solo show at London Fashion Week came in 2006, with Topshop NEWGEN sponsorship. In 2007 he was invited to present his work as part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Fashion In Motion showcase. It was around this time that Gareth’s collection began to garner the highest critical phase. “An incredible, unmissable show…..