Gareth Pugh SS18
London's IMAX Cinema is one of those architectural fantasies that's never quite worked. Bursting out of a sunken piazza in the middle of one of the city's busiest roundabouts, it usually feels like a marooned mirage. But yesterday, surrounded by howling crowds of animal rights protesters (the numbers, and the volume, had spiralled in intensity overnight), it felt for once like its ancestors, the vast amphitheatres of Ancient Rome. Crowds surged and roared on either side of a narrow, wavering pathway that led to the cinema doors, guarded by a clutch of security guards and anxious PRs. And inside, an invited elite tutted nervously, as they waited for the unveiling of Gareth Pugh's latest show.
Image courtesy of PR
'Show' is probably the wrong word. Pugh's film – conceived with choreographer Wayne McGregor, and shot by, Nick Knight – did show some clothing, blasted across the largest cinema screen in Europe: grave, monumental coats carved from stiff fabric, their collars towering above the head; panels of gold, angled and folded abruptly around the models' bodies; and sleek steel exoskeletons, clutching their wearers from head to toe.
The austere grandeur of the garments – and their extreme, elongated proportions – were familiar Pugh signatures, but the mode of presentation forced viewers to consider them afresh. The designer is no stranger to film presentations (he's frequently, and memorably, collaborated with Ruth Hogben in the best). But this season's offering had a raw, epic, uncompromising quality that went beyond the clothes themselves to examine the impulses which drive the designer. Starting with a face-off between a suited-Pugh and a male actor, separated by a table heaped with blocks of pigment and clay which the two men gradually attracted, smearing and clawing at themselves and each other till they blended into one gray mass – before breaking apart, gnawing into each other till Pugh's body was left abandoned, and sacrificed. The howls from outside were drowned out by the snarls of Pugh's nemesis, and by the feral growls that dominated the film's soundtrack.
Image courtesy of PR
The film proceeded in stages, though frantic, writhing bodies jerking in and out of darkness, into slow reveals of the garments themselves. But those opening minutes – the designer seduced and destroyed – called up an alarming range of references from fashion and beyond: El Greco, McQueen's Joan of Arc show, Leigh Bowery, Lucian Freud, William Klein's 'Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?', Francis Bacon's painted shrieks of agony. It was as nightmarish as anything the protesters outside could have imagined. And as messages go, both Pugh and the protesters were on the same page; fashion, however you look at it, is a dangerous game.