From costumes at the Paris opera to a fashion show in a London carpark, Gareth Pugh's inspiration was the golden and decadent era of Imperial Rome
Hats like flying saucers licked by flames and a gilded, spiky crown — there was no escape from the drama of Gareth Pugh's fantastical show of black and gold regal grandeur, even if the show area was a grimy car park in Soho used as the venue for London Fashion Week.
But the previous evening, the British designer had been at the Palais Garnier in Paris, seeing in motion the 60 costumes he had designed for the opera Eliogabalo. Written for the Venice Carnival in the 17th century, it captures the royal life of a decadent young prince in Imperial Rome.
"He's an agent of chaos, a crowned anarchist emerging amid a climate of greed and narcissism — it's essentially about an empire eating itself — which felt alarmingly relevant," said
Gareth, without elaborating exactly what — from Brexit, to subprime banking to climate change - might have seemed a modern equivalent to the fall of Ancient Rome.
Gareth had taken as a symbol the sun, both its creation and warmth, but also its power for destruction. The show opened with what might have been worshippers of a sun god in their strict black dresses, coats and tailored trousers with varying gold effects.
But the noble grandeur cracked into a mosaic of gilded pieces as the regal figures melted away, leaving just gilded sprays at the neck and head of a sober black trouser suit or on the arms and back zipper of a black dress.
Even when the gold had faded like a dying sun, colours were still regal, but the clothes softer: a purple jumpsuit draped from one shoulder, or white dresses where the 'sun' was reduced to a few graphic rays. Vivid lights like sunbursts went in and out of the finale, although who knows whether that was a deep statement or an arty effect.
We have seen Gareth's dramatic presentations many times in his 11 year career - his shows moved from Paris to London after the first decade — and his graphic fashion language is now familiar. But this season, the way he turned grandeur into drama while keeping the show under control, was masterly.
The ending was theatrical — black and white stripes emanating from a sunburst, but the clothes were not unwearable. Unless you count a headdress like an open fan and a stiff collar that might have been be a line up of piano keys.