Gareth Pugh
Photo by Anthony Maule

Gareth Pugh: “I like that I feel out of place”

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Short Profile

Name: Gareth Pugh
DOB: 31 August 1981
Place of birth: Sunderland, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Fashion designer

Gareth, would you call yourself an outsider in today’s fashion industry?

I certainly don’t feel like at home! I feel very much part of the actual thing, but not of the circus around it. Specifically in environments like the Met Ball. It’s such a foreign space. I come from a small town in north east of England, and I just find it very odd and sometimes comical that I find myself in these situations. It’s like an out of body experience I guess, and it’s not an experience I enjoy at all. But I do like the idea that I definitely feel out of place there.

How come?

I feel it’s important to maintain that notion of feeling on the edge of something, on the periphery. It’s a choice with regards to the work that I do — it’s not a crowd pleaser, it’s not meant to please everybody. It’s quite a niche thing and I know that, and I’m very comfortable with the space that my work inhabits. I embrace the idea of an outsider society because while the establishment keeps very much to itself, the peripheral around it, these amazing people and ideas that don’t necessarily fit with the mainstream notion of how things should be — that’s where the energy is. That’s where the ideas lie.

“The work that you do, the decisions that you make, I think all of those things can feed into defining who you are.”

Is that feeling something that has always been part of your identity?

Yes, for sure! I mean, being a gay guy interested in fashion growing up in the town that I come from, I never really fit in there. It’s not like a sad thing! It’s very much something that I’ve used to my benefit, it’s something that I’ve always tried to embrace, because there’s that idea that people can put across their stage persona in their work life, and they have this very different personal persona — kind of like the idea of being the best person that you can be, or just the truest person. But the work that you do, or the decisions that you make, I think all of those things can feed into defining who you are.

Rick Owens said that it’s also important to have people protect and support you, because it’s impossible to do this alone.

Well, when I was still at college I met Judy Blame and we very quickly became close. He’d call himself a cheerleader, but he was really like a mother figure to me. He really supported me and helped me out, and what he represented was very much this championing of outsiders: these people who he really liked to elevate and celebrate. Louise Wilson at Central Saint Martins was also like this but she was telling everyone their work was shit. (Laughs) “The truth hurts but also — you can do better.” And it’s not born out of her being a total cunt, it’s born out of the fact that she wants you to do better than you think you can.

Gareth Pugh's AW17 show in London

Do you ever have doubts about your work?

I think that when you’re a creator, you set out to create the perfect thing, but the idea of reaching that kind of creative nirvana — that’s something that you should never quite reach. It’s quite a masochistic way of looking at the process, because you work so hard on something and then you rip it apart. Basically that’s the way that I look at everything that I’ve ever done. It’s never how I had it in my head! No matter how long you’ve got to work on it, that story has to be ready for a deadline. It’s all about fate, the decisions that you make on a day-to-day basis that can have such a knock-on impact. I’m very much a believer of that idea. I’m always dissatisfied with what it is that I do, you always want to better yourself. I always want to try and push things.

Is pushing your audience also an important factor? I read that you refused to heat or clean the bunker where you held your Autumn/Winter 2017 show in London, because you “weren’t trying to be polite.”

Well, what we do is never apologetic. It’s always vey definite. That show was about putting people on this precipice! It was very much about the rise of fascism in post Trump America and the creative resistance that can rise up to vanquish this bigotry. The moment you entered the bunker — and it was difficult, you had to go down a tiny stairwell five floors — you were entering into our space. It put people on edge. You know, fashion can be full of fantasy, but right now, this is not really the time for fantasy. It’s time to do something that runs deeper. Sometimes it’s important to feel like it’s a bit scary.

Is it essential that your work engage in some kind of narrative?

My shows are not so heavily narrative driven as those old school Galliano shows where he was really getting into each character, telling each model who they were — that they just fled Russia, and they need to look out for wolves. (Laughs) It’s not on that level at all, but every time we do a show, it always has to have a view point, it always has to say something. It’s not necessarily that each outfit is telling a different story, but cumulatively, the collection only comes to life when you have it in the space. We try more so now than ever to make it quite relevant, and I would hate to feel like we just settled.

“The thing I love about fashion is the idea that it represents the opportunity to be the person that they always wanted to be.”

Do you think that refusal to settle is something that sets you apart in today’s fashion industry?

Fashion by its very nature can be shallow. It’s a business, and sometimes it feels a little bit flat. There will always be that kind of wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, instant gratification aspect of the industry… But I never wanted to be a part of the business. For me it was always just trying to do a show that I would want to go and see.

Is that still something that keeps you motivated?

The thing I love about fashion is the idea that it represents, for a lot of people, the opportunity to be the person that they always wanted to be or be the person that they never have been before — the idea of Cinderella! For that one perfect moment, they can totally leave their day to day and be this other. This idea is something that I always try and remember, because, you know, you could quite easily get turned off with the whole idea of fashion today. But that’s what makes me wake up in the morning and want to do things, rather than try to fit in.