Ballets, magazine covers and collections, Gareth Pugh has done them all. In a conversation during LFW September 2016 about the meeting point between the fashion industry and his own brand, he is outspoken in both voice and style. Mario spoke to Gareth about his pieces for a Palais Garnier opera, running an eponymous brand and making it as a designer.
MT: How did you make that transition between leaving art school and establishing yourself within the fashion industry?
GP: My time at St. Martins was a very intense period, so when I left, I needed some space to really make sense of what it was that I wanted to do. It was always going to be something related to fashion, I was sure about that. I love making things with my hands and creating images – the allure of being a part of the industry was always very strong, but the exact form that would take for me was yet to materialise. I was lucky enough to have an amazing group of friends, and we found some great spaces that we squatted and set up as studios. It was fantastic to have a base where I could work, and be surrounded by people who were inspiring. It was such an important time, but I never really had a long term plan, I was just doing what felt right. During that time I met some great people that I really looked up to – Judy Blame, Simon Costin, Nicola Formichetti, Nick Knight, Rick Owens, Michele Lamy – and in their own way, they all helped me understand what it was that I wanted, infused with a definite ‘Go hard or go home’ mentality. Nicola shot my degree collection for the cover of Dazed and Confused, which I guess was the start of everything, then Lulu Kennedy took a big risk with me, giving me my first show at London Fashion Week under the Fashion East banner, everything just snowballed from there. While I definitely work very hard on what I do, I always consider myself extremely lucky to be where I am.
MT: What’s different about the way young designers work now, that would differ from your own St. Martin’s experience?
GP: I think it’s fair to say that things have changed hugely since I went to college. I remember starting my final year, and our tutor sat us all down and showed us a Dior Couture video…’Something like that’ he said, referring to our degree collections we were just about to start designing. There was a definite leaning towards the creatively flamboyant, it was all very anti-commercial, we simply weren’t taught business at college. Things are of course different now, but there’s good and bad to this. Simply put I think making mistakes is incredibly important. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and I’m constantly learning from them, that process never ends. However, graduates fresh out of college, hoping to be designers, have a huge weight of responsibility. Disregarding of the insane levels of student debt, the expectations of the industry have shifted, there is now so much pressure to perform, to be instantly clued up on overheads, sales, deliveries, fabric orders, factories etc. It’s a pressure that I feel is neither fair nor realistic. Learning on the job is the only way to really understand how things work. There are great support networks available now to help guide start-ups through this initial minefield, but I can’t help but feel a little of that fire, that energy, that blind ambition to just do something for the sake of doing it, rather than worrying about invoices and tax returns, has somewhat waned. Saying that however, it’s heartening to see that there are some really hungry, exciting, fresh designers coming up that are helping to push against all of this…I live in hope!
MT: I remember hearing about a Gareth Pugh line for Topshop. Ten years on, is there a possibility this could ever come to life?
GP: I haven’t been asked to do it yet, but I never say never…so who knows! Serving some serious attitude on that sort of scale would certainly be a unique challenge.
MT: More and more I am wanting to help causes I love. What causes does your fashion speak to?
GP: I’d like to think that what I do stands for a certain sort of purity. I love the idea of fashion as fantasy. For me, fashion represents a chance to dream, to escape, to fall in love with an idea – for that you need a little space and a little time and a certain amount of openness to suspend reality, this is something I think I will always hold onto, it’s one of the main reasons that helped me to decide to do all of this in the first place. Unfortunately I fear it’s a point of view that has increasingly limited appeal, but surely that’s reason enough for me to keep doing it.
MT: I have changed so much and learned so much since my teens. If you could give one piece of advice to your teenage self, before he became this famous designer, what would it be?
GP: That’s an easy one. Worry less and have more fun. Make lots of mistakes and always be open to new people and new ideas.
MT: What influences you from outside the fashion sphere?
GP: I’m lucky to be able to work with some incredible people outside the industry. I used to be a dancer (many moons ago!) so it was a bit of a dream come true, and felt a bit like coming full circle, when I was asked to work on a ballet with Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera House. It was back in 2012, Carbon Life, but it’s actually coming back on stage this November, it’s Wayne’s Choreography, Mark Ronson live on stage with his band, and me on both the costumes and set. It was my first time doing anything like this, so I did feel like I’d been thrown into the deep end, but in really good way, of course.
I also just finished working on the costumes for a full length Opera, at the Palais Garnier in Paris. It opened last week, 16 September, the day before my show at London Fashion Week. It was a long process and very labour intensive, working really closely with their ateliers. The skill level and the incredible attention to detail they showed was breathtaking, and that’s quite a compliment coming from someone who is a self-confessed perfectionist.
MT: What’s next for Gareth Pugh?
GP: Well in the immediate future, we have our showroom in Paris, fittings of my collection in Italy, and we are planning a couple of projects for the end of the year. When we get back it will be time to start on the next collection. I could definitely do with lying on a beach for a few days, with my show and the Opera, I didn’t have much of a summer, but let’s see if I can fit that in. Other than that, I honestly have no clue. I prefer taking everything as it comes. There’s still no long term plan in place, and that’s just how I like it.