Friday, February 15, 2008

London Fashion Week: Pugh's Eschatology

One of the best things about London is its tendency to magnify pocket subcultures that completely baffle the generation immediately preceding. In the '60s it was the Mods and Rockers, in the '70s the punks, and in the late '80s the club kids. The "club kids" tag has a wholesome, Babes in Arms feel to it, as if "club kids" are the denizens of the local soda fountain whom Mickey and Judy round up to put on a backyard show.

London's club kids are anything but naïfs in overalls. Their creative derring-do is often responsible for stylistic crazes that inspire tomorrow's runway looks, at least as concerns fashion's young Turks. By the time these trends reach the High Street, they are several months out of date.

As the Brits are wont to say, it's not bloody likely that most of Gareth Pugh's latest collection will turn up at Top Shop. Pugh, the undisputed star of fashion-as-cinema, released another costume phantasm that left one feeling as if one had gone to the movies, fallen asleep, and had a petrifying nightmare brought on by ingesting unpopped popcorn.

This is not as disagreeable as it sounds. Pugh knows how to put on a show, and as a result his are the hottest tickets in town. In the category of short feature, Pugh reigns über alles. He's an emo-coiffed club kid inspired by other club kids, all of whom must share a fascination with cinematic terror.

The Autumn/Winter 2008 collection drew heavily on a Hollywood classic that only became popular 20 years after its release. A horror movie cloaked as a morality tale, The Wizard of Oz terrified generation after generation of children with its flying monkeys and monosyllabically chanting Winkie Guards.

As far as universal fright-referents go, the monkeys and Winkies of The Wizard of Oz rank right up there with the bogeyman, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. A headdress and flared skirt from the Spring 2008 collection turn out to have been a sign of things to come. The connection to the film wasn't obvious in September. In hindsight, one was seeing a trailer for a coming attraction.

The coming attraction more than repaid the film(s) that inspired it, although in only one instance was the interpretation fairly explicit. In that look, a Winkie cross-bred with a monkey; the result was a fur dress (or greatcoat, who can tell?) with a severely flared skirt. In another, Pugh placed the monkey's fur as a shrug on a zip-front, two-toned dress that had its provenance not in Hollywood but in the Mugler-Montana continuum.

Then there were fractal collars, sleeves, and skirts, as Pugh worked with his trademark modularity and burst volumes. An ominous-looking suit and two dresses that appeared to be made of recycled aluminum turned out to be made of zippers. The designer's eye for geometry must be noted; the designs were precision mutations when they could just as easily have been malformations.

Here is where we come to the eternal, and eternally impenetrable question of what constitutes fashion. The way Chanel had it, "A fashion that goes out of fashion overnight is a distraction, not a fashion." But who are we to say whether what Pugh did for autumn will disappear by tomorrow morning? Both the flared skirts and zippered material could well show up in a suburban mall, but how much does indirect reference count towards qualification?

Pugh's spectacles tend more towards technical wizardry than they do to dramatic narrative. Although high entertainment, they aren't exactly Stanislavkian. Psychological truth and emotional life are subjugated in favor of special effects. This leads to a feeling that what appears on the runway has been outsourced by a Hollywood costume department. In turn, the objective of the work seems to lie in conspicuousness, i. e. how visible it is. Considering Pugh's attachment to the club scene, this is defensible; visibility and recognition are of utmost importance.

For the sake of argument, let's say that adults have demands that often render them serious and incapable of having child-like fun (a terrible proposition). As adults, we may have forgotten that fear can be not just terrifying but also thrilling. Hollywood has exploited this successfully and so has Pugh. We may well have outgrown and rationalized our early fears so that they are no longer points of reference. We've replaced them with far worse things that we'd never dream of using as a basis for fashion. So what if what Pugh sent down the runway was a teenage eschatology? When was the last time you tried to save humankind from warrior cyborgs?

It was the end of the world, and fifteen bucks buys you a front-row seat. At the local multiplex, that is. Don't forget to bring your lightsaber.


WendyB said...

That's some hairy-looking fashion there.

C.J.B. said...

As soon as I saw the show go up I loved the Oz references (I mean there was an actual tin-man hat). Such a daring interpretation.

enc said...

"So what if what Pugh sent down the runway was a teenage eschatology?"

So what indeed. I quite like hyper-creative souls like Pugh's. Let him run wild, and do what he will. It's not likely to be boring, that's certain.

Bobble Bee said...

Hell yeah.
Why we don't have people like that in NY??

Suzanna Mars said...

BB, it isn't allowed in New York (heh). This is the reason all the truly creative stuff is in London. London is not a "third" fashion capital at all--it is a creative collective unto itself, a place for madmen and mavericks. Note that up til last year Pugh hadn't sold a stitch.

Hailey said...

ohhhh, it is very flying monkeys! I'm sent back to my childhood when they enthralled me so much.

Bobble Bee said...

it's so sad to live in NY fashion-wise... it amazes me when people long to live here and they come and find it faaaaaaaabulous and soooooooooo inspiring... I just can't understand.
NY is great, has amazing opportunities for everyone and the most cinematographic set up but definitely is not fabulous or inspiring.

susie_bubble said...

I'm so glad that you're not a Pugh slater, Suzanna as so many ppl are...even in London! His work has come leaps and bounds from Leigh Bowery imitations in his first few collections with his craftsmenship now all the better displayed than ever....

Suzanna Mars said...

Incredible craftsmanship, SB, and in one instance (the zippered suit) truly worthy of the term "architecture."

I find it fascinating.

selinaoolala said...

love it, if it was all immitable there would be no point. people should just appreciate the sights. i can't imagine ever being able to create work like his, how do you even come up with that stuff let alone create it!

CB3 said...

What'd I miss, what'd I miss???? Sorry I've been driving up the East Coast this weekend, and was pretty pooped yesterday to absorb anything!

Anyway, on Pugh: Great Title!! I am actually not going to review this show, simply because I am so behind, and also because these comments have me thinking differently about him.

I don't know if you remember, but really early on, he was listed in my profile as one of my fave designers. What I do tend to still like about him is the kind of fearlessness exhibited in the clothes. Perhaps what I tend NOT to appreciate - and this is probably more the critics who do a disservice to Pugh - is the simplistic alignment between Pugh's work and S&M culture. Because the politics of the latter are really complex, so I really don't appreciate that kind of glib comparison (which you haven't done here =) Sure S&M is about exhibitionism to a certain extent, but it's not just about that, and such a reading presumes fashion as sheer spectacle from the outset.
I think I began to quietly dislike Pugh because he generated such responses and misreadings. Quite unfair of me, considering those glib readings most likely had little to do with the substance of his collections.

Your term "warrior cyborg" is also really fascinating.

Suzanna Mars said...

This is a good comment, because it brings up a secondary issue. Fashion columnists (Horyn, etal) do not write academic columns, nor do they in many instances write particularly erudite ones. We only need look at art reviews in the same publications to see that the fashion coverage is far lighter and less intellectual in content. It is only in the comments sections that the discussions can take on a scholarly tone.

What you suggest is academic, and therefore requiring of a lot more awareness and perhaps more advanced education than people possess (I am putting myself into this group). I'm not sure that Horyn, who speculatively used the word "pervy" to describe the '07 collection, would have been aware of some deeper political implications, or, on the other hand, that such a term equated fashion with exhibtionist spectacle. One can see where people struggled with that collection even while being entertained.

Of course you may be referring to different reviews, but Horyn's is, as always, the standard.

riz said...

Oh the CB3 post was by me, "RIZ"

Suzanna Mars said...

No kidding--(LOL!!) hence my reference to academia. Not everyone has your level of awareness and intellectual acumen! The rest of us just kinda flub along, occasionally picking adjectives that have far larger implications and resonances than the average Joe, Jane, or fashion columnist would realize.

Especially when it comes to S &M!

Thomas said...

The Wizard of Oz is undeniably terrifying, like clowns and children's choirs.

How am I to understand fashion such as this? Clearly it is not meant to be "worn" in the traditional sense, or is it? Are designers such as Pugh waiting for the world to catch up to them, or do they even care?

So many questions, so few answers.