PARIS–Days after Brit expat Gareth Pugh’s Mercury and Ebony S/S 2011 collection was presented on an 8 x 15 meter Imax screen to a warehouse full of buyers and press, the avant-garde designer sits for an informal Q&A at the Louvre’s Apple Store. The avant-gardeist snapped up France’s ANDAM award in 2008 and was rumored as next in line at McQueen and Dior Homme. The last in a series presented by Dazed and Confused called “Meet the Designer” the magazine’s co-founder Jefferson Hack talks with the young designer about the tentative future of catwalk shows, his sold-out shop in Hong Kong and why Saint Martins does not a star make.
Jefferson Hack: Gareth’s first store opened in Hong Kong in July. It was designed by Iwan from from Daytrip Studio who is super young, like 25. What was it like working with him?
Gareth Pugh: I’ve known him since he was 18 and we’re very good friends, I think that helps.
My two stipulations were that I wanted it to look like a black box inside and that one wall could control video.
JH: There’s a video wall that also beams out into the street and an application where people can buy from it, like using his store as a broadcast medium….like a TV station or something.
GP: The store is nestled between Comme Des Garcons and Gucci, so I wanted the shop to speak for itself. To scream.
JH: Describe opening night.
GP: It was surreal to turn the corner and see a shop with my name on, it looked like the inside of my head.
JH: Are those tiles [inside the store]?
GP: That’s actually the changing room, they’re tiles covered in leather. It’s like a padded cell. The message is NOT that you have to be mad to buy my clothes.
JH: I heard the entire stock sold out opening night, is that just a rumor?
GP: Yeah. The factory delivered part of the stock.
JH: (after screening a teaser of the SS11 film directed by Ruth Hogben) You work with strong women like Raquel Zimmerman and Natasha Vodianova that move in a certain way. What type of woman do you look for?
GP: They have to be able to perform and they have to get it right the first time. It lends itself to these extravagant temptress kind of women. For me it’s amazing to find a woman that has both masculinity/femininity. And that’s really important for my clothes. You need somewhat that powerful to carry them off.
JH: There’s been a strong reaction from the press and critics on the collection and the film. Are people starting to accept fashion film as an alternative to catwalk shows? For the record, what was your motivation for making a film and not traditional show?
GP: It was about bringing it to a wider audience and about having complete control over what I bring to that audience. So many things can go wrong with a show and so many things can go wrong in a film but people don’t see those mistakes. It was about taking back control and showing them what I want them to see.
JH: Did the experience match the motivation/expectation of how you wanted it to be received? And also the emotion of it, the feeling of the audience afterward?
GP: Obviously when I do a show there’s a big release at the end. You feel a sense of elation or ”Oh, it’s finished we can get drunk.” We kind of had that when we finished shooting. Then it was two weeks of editing. So there were less peaks and troughs in my mood. Which I think was good. The show is a very small part about what I do as a designer. As soon as the show finishes it’s straight into sales and this time I was able to concentrate on getting that side of things right. It’s often forgotten, or I often forget, that the show is one part of that but, this week, starting from today actually, is where the business happens and I could concentrate on that more.
JH: It is as expensive to make a fashion film as it to stage a show, is that right?
GP: Yeah. I think a lot of people don’t realize that. They consider the option of doing a film as secondary to doing a show because it’s a cheap cop out.
JH: I think you’ve proved the complete opposite. Done at the level at which you do it, is a very clear and viable alternative for you and your brand and your vision.
GP: I think it’s about the choices that you make with regards to the amount of money you spend on things to communicate your brand. To do a show in front of 300 people maybe doesn’t make as much sense to me as making a film that we can present to, potentially millions of people around the world that can see. The idea is not diluted or edited in any way as it can be when you see pictures on sites like style.com. It’s basically what I want people to see. I think the investment…you can reap those benefits. It’s worth the money.
JH: Finally Gareth, if you could have any budget to stage any event to show your clothes, what would it be, another film?
GP: Fashion shows themselves have evolved over the past 20 years into this slick presentation. I’ve seen videos of shows in the 80′s and there was like press all up and down the runway–it was somewhat chaotic, like a bullfight. I’m not trying to say it’s the future. It’s an idea of doing something different. I’m not saying that I’m never going to do a runway show again. It’s very open.
(Audience) How has Central Saint Martins had an effect on you?
Its one of those infamous place so many people have come from. Louise Wilson that teaches on the MA there always jokes that people come in to study at St. Martins expect to be sprinkled with some magic dust and made into a star designer. That’s really not how it is there. It’s very lo-fi and cramped and there’s like one sewing machine to every ten students. I had this theory when I was there that everything you want to do there is made so much harder. Even down to the incredibly unhelpful library staff to or the people that work in the fashion office. It teaches you that if you want to do something you have to do it yourself. You can’t rely on other people to do it for you. It’s kind of my Achilles Heel I suppose because the bigger things get the more stuff that I have to do and oversee and organize. But I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t able to have such control over things.