With fire flickering and blood running, medieval figures swept past in pure-black: it was a dramatic comeback to London from Paris for Gareth Pugh, and a way for fashion’s Prince of Darkness to celebrate 10 years in the industry.
The Bill Viola-style video in the background showed fire engulfing a model who lopped off her hair with giant scissors and anointed herself in blood with a Saint George’s Cross. The film was by Ruth Hogben, a consistent collaborator with Pugh, and it set the storyline of noble figures in a cult of Brittania, striding down the catwalk as if in a female army.
Through the Gothic gloom, the models appeared as power women in clothes cut with the absolute precision that makes the designer bankable. The coats and dresses were artworks of cloth and straw. Make that ‘straws’, for the designer explained backstage that black plastic drinking straws were used as decorative surfaces on a shapely dress or trimmed coat. I should have replied, for Gareth has a fine sense of humour, that it was the perfect dress for travelling light on an airplane.
The show was so precise, so perfectly constructed and dramatically displayed, with the models like Boudicca’s warriors in mythical headdresses, that I felt real empathy with the show — and sympathy for Pugh.
For all his compelling claims for strong women and the supreme body mouldings of clothes made from exceptional sources, Pugh seems destined to be under the dark shadow of Alexander McQueen. There we were in the Victoria and Albert Museum — the very place where the Savage Beauty exhibition devoted to the late designer will be held next month.
Pugh’s vision seems more positive and optimistic than McQueen’s, however. His cutting skills — ven tailoring the ubiquitous puffa coats — are impressive. And he should not be seen in McQueen’s shadow, even if both designers have fought on the dark side.