Each collection of Gareth Pugh is an immersion in the world of fantasy, romanticism, and sometimes even horror. As a student of Rick Owens himself, the designer always puts the imagination at the fore in his work, defying all the rules of internet marketing and the fashion industry. His nihilism about proportions, materials and common sense has ultimately made him one of the most iconic British designers of our generation, whose shows are always some of the most anticipated at London Fashion Week. We met with the designer at the updated Boutique 7, where you can already buy things from his collections, and discussed how you can change reality through fashion.
How was your first day in Moscow? Are you here for the first time?
Yes, this is my first time! Our hotel is located next to Red Square, so so far we have only managed to wander around the Kremlin and the Armory Chamber.
Are you familiar with Russian fashion and culture at all?
I know almost nothing about Russian fashion, but your culture inspires me a lot. I have a secret passion for everything that Carl Faberge did. It seems to me that his work largely determines how Russia is perceived in the West - as something subtle and ideal.
You started designing at the age of 14 at the National Youth Theater in London. Has your attitude to the creation of clothes changed during this time?
I started working there because I really wanted to become a part of the world, which at that time was a mystery to me. It's still better than working in a bar or any other place where you can get a job as a student. I think the reason why I do this is still the same - I just like it. I like to create images, build a dialogue with different spheres of culture, not only with fashion. Besides, I hate working under someone else's command, and as a designer I create the rules myself and break them myself. In general, it seems to me that fashion gives freedom to a person who loves to create something with his hands.
Do you think your work in the theater somehow influenced your work? It seems that with your collections you are creating some completely new reality.
All I do is fantasy. For me, this is the main component of fashion. For example, when you put on a dress, you know that it will not change your life, but nevertheless it can make you feel more confident, or even a different person, even if only for one evening. The whole point of theater and cinema is precisely that people want to escape from reality and become a part of something beautiful. It's the same with fashion. When you buy Chanel lipstick, you are not buying it in the first place because it is the best lipstick - you are buying your involvement in French haute couture, luxury.
What's your favorite fantasy character?
When I was little, I adored witches and Angelica Houston, the witch supreme! She's awesome. In general, I love Cinderella, which, of course, is strange to hear from a person like me. For me, this whole story with Cinderella is the embodiment of the concept of fashion, in which everyone wants to become what he is not, and get what he lacks. That's very beautiful.
That is, the woman who wears your things is Cinderella and a witch at the same time?
I think this is anyone who has the courage and self-confidence.
Continuing the conversation about fashion and reality: your latest collection is based on the costumes you made for the French opera Heliogabalus at the Opera Garnier. As far as I know, the plot is based on the story of a young emperor who went crazy with his desire for power. Does the story inside your collection somehow resonate with today's reality?
Oh sure. This opera just blew my head off with the fact that the action in it takes place two thousand years ago, but at the same time it sounds so relevant today. Heliogabalus was the self-proclaimed son of a deity, and he was just dragging himself away. In the end, this destroyed him. This story can be told even now, because this image of a tyrant runs through the whole culture. Especially today, when we have Donald Trump, for example, she is especially fresh. The state of affairs makes one wonder why this is so. I think that many people ask themselves why we now exist in this reality.
I make the rules myself and I break them
You just recently returned with your shows back to London Fashion Week, and here is the whole Brexit situation. Do you think this will affect the British fashion industry?
I, like many, are against Brexit. But I don't think it will affect the industry in any way. The problem here is rather what message and what image of Great Britain it carries to the rest of the world.
Have your feelings about this whole situation somehow also reflected in the spring collection?
Yes, but I tried to show that we need to stay positive. Things will change very dramatically because people value ideas and creativity, not boundaries.
Nowadays, many designers use direct political quotes, make rallies on the catwalks, and all this is a bit like PR. In your own collections, this topic is somewhat veiled. Through what elements did you try to convey this destructive idea of power and separateness?
Yes, sometimes designers use some very explicit techniques that really look more like PR, but we tried to present it a little more conceptually. We decided to start and end the show with the same bow, but nevertheless this look was different at the beginning and at the end. We kicked off the show with black and gold looks that hint at a passion for wealth. Then these expensive ominous images are replaced by very light and optimistic ones. In general, this is the idea of how after a storm the clouds dissipate and the sun appears as the birth of something new. You know, when you talk about politics, the image of a pendulum comes to mind. After Obama, there is always some Trump, and after him - someone in an amicable way of the opposite. The same thing has happened more than once with fashion, by the way: the reaction to the 1960s was punk, and the reaction to punk was neo-romanticism. This is always the case, so do not despair.
Gareth Pugh, spring / summer 2017
Did London subcultures, the same punk, somehow inspire you to work?
There are no subcultures in London anymore, as, in principle, everywhere else. It is very important for subcultures to interact physically, but now people communicate through Instagram. Now you can be in China, Brazil, it doesn't matter. On the one hand, it's great because people can become part of something bigger than themselves. But the idea of intimacy that was between people in the subculture no longer exists, the Internet has killed all romance.
Well, yes, now there is some kind of total appropriation of everything.
Yes, now there is this notorious "bow of the day".
Aha! Today, for example, I want to be emo
But you can be a hippie tomorrow!
And who were you in your youth, maybe a neo-romanticist? What British music have you listened to?
Actually, not that much. I grew up with Blur and Oasis, but I've always been on the Oasis team - and now too. In the studio I listen to dance music because I'm from the north of England and there has always been a big club subculture there. Now I like FKA Twiggs, she has amazing music and ideas that are much more than just a desire to sell records.
Talking about sales and art. What do you think of the “see now, buy now” concept?
It's great that someone has it working, but I think it completely sucks the soul out of fashion. Fashion is fantasy, illusion, even seduction. Fashion is like sex, and “see now, buy now” is like a cheap hand job. If you really want something, you will wait. Haute couture has always been the opposite of retail, where products are changed every three weeks. Fast fashion doesn't give you time to think about what you're doing. This is especially difficult for me, because we are not creating clothes that you can just take off the hanger and wear, we are creating a new world, and this does not fit into this concept of "clicking" at all. In general, it seems to me that this is boredom.
Fashion is a hell of a job
Has the Internet in general influenced your work as a designer? Besides the fact that you are annoyed by "clicking".
I am very stubborn in my reluctance to recognize social media. I get scared when I hear a designer worry about how his things will look on Instagram. It's scary that social platforms influence people's ideas so much. I'm still a little old school, I even registered on Instagram relatively recently. Fashion for me is a world that doesn't fit into Instagram reality.
Okay, enough about politics and retail, or we get depressed. Better share your plans for the future? Should we expect costumes for Russian ballet from you?
I dream about it, it would be an extravaganza! I hope that I will continue to collaborate with theaters, because, perhaps, it is only in this area that creativity is still appreciated.
Finally, what advice can you give to those who want to work in fashion?
I think it is very important to decide for what reasons you are going to do this. It is very important to love what you are doing, but you need to understand that it is very difficult. Nowadays there are many young people who want to work in fashion because it seems to them that it is prestigious and luxurious. Nothing like that guys, it's a hell of a job.