Designer Gareth Pugh is the non-cloying Harry Potter of the fashion world. Not only does the recent graduate of London's fabled Central Saint Martins bear an uncannily boyish resemblance to the wand-wielding do-gooder, but he also achieves a kind of magical theatricality with his experiments in proportion, scale and, most of all, irony. For his fall '05 debut collection in the Fashion East group show, London's breeding ground for cutting-edge new talent, he presented a black-on-black spectacle that caused a hullabaloo nearly as big as his massive balloon outfit that appeared on the cover of Dazed & Confused around the same time. Here, over a cutting table in his cluttered but sunlit South London studio, funded by designer Rick Owens and his partner Michelle Lamy, ERICA CROMPTON becomes the latest to fall under Pugh's spell.
There's a lot more happening in your line than getting the right skirt shape of the season. What's the concept?
It's about the struggle between lightness and darkness, like Nancy Kerrigan versus Tonya Harding. I find it amazing how ice-skating is this incredibly elegant art form and then there's this one pikey, trailer-trash skater who's a real bitch and has her opponent kneecapped. Also people like Gary Glitter, this old glam rock singer who turns out to be a pedophile.
Is that also the premise of your Pied Piper-inspired fall collection?
Yes. Pied Piper is this twee story in the beginning, but then he ends up kidnapping all the children of the town. I'm also inspired by split-personality mothers who are aggressively sexual people and go out on the night, like Grace Jones but worse. One outfit I'm working on [for spring 06] is going to be bright plastic, but also very dark, like a woman who's really nasty but very polished.
The Dazed cover with the balloons hit stands before you even staged your first runway show. Tell us about those infamous inflatables.
They were the best piece from my graduation show at Central Saint Martins. I showed them again [alongside Hussein Chalayan and Stella McCartney] at a Dazed exhibit a little later. Then it got picked up by Nicola [Formichetti, Senior Fashion Editor of Dazed & Confused], who put it on the cover.
Explain the sequence of events after that.
I was selling stuff at Kokon To Zai in Paris, then they flew me there to dress their windows. Then I went to Rome to do that horrible reality TV program, The Fashion House, simply because my only other option was the dole. I was offered a daily allowance and two months free rent. I thought it was going to be really good, like the new Clothes Show [the now-defunct, cultish BBC show], and I was going to be another Caryn Franklin [the show's presenter and i-D's fashion editor during the Eighties]. But no! It just turned into a big charade. Later, Revillon [the French furrier recently revived by Rick Owens] called me for work. So I went to Paris Couture Week to style the models at some salon shows.
What has been your career high to date?
Dazed's cover! Also, last week I went to a shoot that was for the cover of Japanese Dazed. I was photographed with other designers like Kim Jones and Ann-Sofie Back. Showing at Fashion East was amazing, too.
Does growing up in Sunderland in Britain's northeast inspire you?
Yes. My collections are autobiographical. I don't need to go to the library and look in a book to see the boot I want to make. And I can't really see myself going off to some place like India and doing a collection based on the local garb. I think that'd be a bit contrived because it's not somewhere I know about. Whereas I've lived in Sunderland for a long time and I know it intimately, so to tap into it as a source of inspiration is, I think, quite honest.
You made your fall collection in a squat. What's the story there?
It was a huge converted warehouse the size of Harvey Nichols. I stayed there for a month. The building was split up into various levels. It had an art gallery, a nightclub, a theater with stupidly high ceilings and a fully equipped gym with a sunbed and saunas. There was also a gospel church with loads of side rooms which we used as bedrooms. On the top level was the roof, which made bonfire nights a lot of fun. We watched a 360-degree firework show all over London one night. My studio was the gym, and off the gym was a completely mirrored dance studio like Flashdance. I often used the sunbed as a bed. It was warm, and it was February, so elsewhere in the building was quite cold. And it meant that although I didn't sleep for a month, I still retained a healthy glow.
What happened to it?
We were kicked out to property developers with a court order. They're ripping the whole thing down to build luxury flats. It's such a shame! I was halfway into doing the Kylie thing at the time.
Tell us more about the Kylie [Minogue] thing.
I designed pieces for her Greatest Hits tour. That was fun. I used the first dress I ever made, a black leather S&M harness with metal rings and straps, in a suit fabric made to look like gingham, like a biker version of Bo Peep. It opened at the front and had loads of circles so when she spun around it kicked out. We made that but they also wanted it to be a bit Kylie-fied, so it was my dress with their fabrics. I also made ten or eleven male backing outfits.
And the balloons?
I got my balloons in there, too.