Gareth Pugh’s First Paris Collection: Elizabethan Meets Venice Carnival Meets Goth-Punk Storm Trooper
In the high school pantheon of designers, Dr. Chanel is the in-control principal, Mr. Lagerfeld is the mysterious superintendent, Ms. Von Furstenberg is the wise favorite teacher, Donatella is the bad girl playing hooky, Ralph is the classic quarterback, Marc is the prom queen, Kate and Laura Mulleavy are the strange but cool girls in art class, Stella is the earnest, slightly annoying activist … and then who’s that freak sitting there alone in the corner?
Yeah, the shy, fey, emaciated weirdo wearing some sort of Edward Scissorhands punk-goth getup that makes Lagerfeld look like a sweet old biddy in lacy doilies. The one kindly but intently ignoring Ms. Von Furstenberg’s lectures, making some sort of very intense origami construction with the plastic from his binder, a sheet of black tire rubber from the high school parking lot, a razor and a match.
That nobody there’s Gareth Pugh, and you’ll know him now by the 2008 ANDAM Award blinding you from his ratty black tee.
Revenge against popular culture is sweet, and a dish best served cold. The Central Saint Martins designer is not malicious and in fact comes across as sweet and shy, but sometimes you get the feeling that ole Gareth is playing a joke on all of us, an extended prank that he’s seeing how long it will take us all to get.
Almost everything Gareth makes could be a circus tent/vent disaster on black-and-white platforms. Witness below a piece I love but almost any other designer would probably mess up royally:
Gareth can also do sexy, in his own strange way:
The saving grace from his pieces of weirdness are that they’re done so incredibly well; the vents are so fantastically, precisely done, the silhouettes are so bizarre and masculine a la Storm Trooper chest shield/body armor, the long Elizabethan ruffs are so architecturally stable, and then he goes and says things like: “It’s kind of that essence of beauty, that duality… A flower looks the most amazing just before it’s about to die.” In Hint Magazine in 2005, he was quoted as saying that his skirts were “about the struggle between lightness and darkness, like Nancy Kerrigan versus Tonya Harding.”
How could you not love a designer who says something like that? But in this case, the bite of reality is stronger than the bark of mythos, and Gareth really follows through on what he says.
Let’s take a closer look at a couple samples from Gareth’s first shoe collection.
Simple, but perfect. And the accentuation on the appropriate legwear (black and white tights that are a fluid part of the shoe, nearly indistinguishable) and makeup (black solid lashes that are white on the sides) definitely reinforces the fact that a shoe can be subtle in color but still shout its presence from the rooftops if you play it right. It makes me think of Chanel’s classic black shoes with white cap toes, worn with black tights, so that the whole leg was black except for a tippy-toe of white peekaboo. Designers are saying, let’s think beyond our shoes to the perfect legwear for each pair.
The most fantastic thing about these shoes is that they are black and chunky in the back, warping into a whole other shoe when you see them from that angle, complemented by tights that are black in the back. It’s all about perception with Gareth’s work, shading and depth and angles and proportion. Storm Troopers plunging into a visual wrinkle in time and space.
But Gareth, I believe we can see weirder, more whimsical, more fantastic, both darker and lighter in shoes from you. And yes, that’s a challenge from an ardent fan.