sunderland, school days and dressing up, read gareth pugh's first ever interview
As he returns to the London schedules today, we throwback to Gareth Pugh's first interview with i-D in 2006.
From sucking on a sizeable amount of editorial coverage that established names would choke on, to clocking up commissions his peers would sell their Nana's gold teeth for, from here to Hackney and back again you can't shake a stick without hearing the name Gareth Pugh. In the wake of his A/W '04 dancefloor show at London club Kashpoint, Pugh's shooting star has been ever on the ascendant, shooting slap bang right through the stratosphere into a giddying orbit, all the while wrapped in red and white stripes and clutching a helium balloon just for good measure. In Gareth's wake both London's club fashion scenes are bubbling like the top of Mount Doom ready to implode and explode, thanks in no small part to the unifying nature of his personable personality. He takes everyday tat - a bit of tinsel here, some sticky back plastic there - and with a flick of his (surprisingly manly) wrist, transforms it into counter culture/couture art. His master plan is one to be reckoned with - nothing less than world domination will suffice. Gareth's intelligent clothes should be classed as bespoke couture, in the same throbbing vein as an early Dior/Westwood etc. but currently without the ephemera to flog to his baying public. Proof is in the sticky toffee pudding which last season witnessed the legendary Anna Wintour take to the floor. She sat perfectly perched front of house whilst big black balloons bounced off the walls on either side of the catwalk, a gaggle of !WOWOW!'s opposite. Showing this season for the very first time at the BFC tents it seems those with the dollar dollar bills are finally recognizing Gareth's ish. His Happiness shoot for i-D in collaboration with Nick Knight being a prime example of his capability and skill at adapting to a situation. Following his initial brief, the day before the shoot came and - goddamn it - none of Gareth's clothes were available to be photographed, (they were dotted around the world at various high profile fashion shoots). So the next day balloons were bought, paint was splattered and glitter thrown. Tonight I'll be spending the evening alongside Gareth at the Bistrotheque 'Vogue Ball' where he will be judging alongside our Fashion Director Edward Enninful and Beauty Director Pat McGrath. I'll stand back against the wall, hidden in the crowd and catch Gareth from afar, admire his floppy fringe, and think to myself how lucky I have been to witness and encourage such talent.
So Miss Puke, how are things with you?
Good, thank you.
Let's start at the beginning, when did you first become aware of fashion?
From a really young age. I think it was my brother who has this insatiable appetite for very expensive clothes. He used to work on the deli at Asda and used to go to Newcastle and spend all his money in very expensive stores.
What kind of stuff did he buy?
Just like, lad-going-on-the-pull kind of clothes. I remember he spent a lot of money on a Paul Smith jacket, a lot of Prada, a lot of money on this very disgusting Dries Van Noten cardigan. But it made him happy so that's ok.
How old is your brother?
He's 29 now. He used to really be into 2 Unlimited, and I have carried that on a bit. Then he got into Ice T. He used to have this pen pal in America who used to send him Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince tapes. Then he went to Benidorm for 2 weeks and...
Got off with loads of girls?
Yes, and obviously that's not really my thing. It was funny to be in such proximity to things like that. You could take things from it. If I wanted to wear an expensive coat on a night out then I could just take it from his wardrobe. He hated me doing that and he always knew. But I suppose the first time I decided that I ever wanted to do design and move to London was probably when I was at the National Youth Theatre when I was 14. I was in the costume department of this theatre company. I stayed in these student halls in Tufnell Park over the summer. To be 14 and left on your own in London was an amazing experience. Like getting drunk and stuff. Although my parents were never the type not to let me drink, but at home it was just a glass of wine at Sunday dinner or at New Year's Eve.
When did you first get drunk?
I first discovered Strongbow whilst at the National Youth Theatre, we had all these show openings, with free drinks. It was really fun because I was the youngest person in the costume department. I was too young to join so I lied about my age, but it did eventually come out that I was 14.
Where did you go shopping?
I used to go round Gucci and big stores and pretend I was shopping for my mum and get them to give me catalogues. It was kind of market research. I just thought they were so other worldly.
Did the posh shops not scare you?
No, it was amazing! We used to dress up and pretend we were really rich.
I'm picturing you wafting around in a white fur coat and sunglasses.
It was kind of like that (laughs). I remember the first time I went to London I wore this maroon velvet jacket I bought from a charity shop. It was really good quality. It was single breasted but it was too big for me so I turned it into double-breasted. I cut the arms up to the elbows and made this massive obi. So I used to go come to London dressed up like a knob head!
I'm still seeing you posing in sunglasses.
Well, I wore a pair of spectacles that I had taken the lenses out of and put acetate in. So it looked like I was wearing glasses... but I wasn't.
What was your hair like back then?
Horrible. When I was 15 I had curtains - very 90s.
Did you get dressed at home or did you get changed on the train?
I would get changed on the train. In Sunderland they used to do this deal in The Echo, where you could get a day return to London for £15. The normal seats are £25 but these tickets were for the little fold-down seats in the corridor by the toilets. As soon as you stepped into King's Cross you could get away with wearing anything. I found that so inspiring that you could travel somewhere in the same country and things could be so different.
What was Sunderland like growing up? Did you like school?
I really liked Junior but I hated Senior School. People were becoming too socially aware. It wasn't until the last two years of schooling that I found a group of friends that were into what I was into. We weren't like the cool people but we all went out and had a really good time.
Did you do A levels?
I went to college to do that.
Yes. That was also a bit weird. Even in college I didn't really think that there was anybody to relate to. From an early age I knew I wanted to go to London and do this particular thing so college was a means to an end.
What was your college work like then? Has your work always been quite dark and gothic?
I wouldn't say gothic; it's always had some sort of darkness to it. When you say gothic, it has all these references to historical things and my work doesn't have that.
Growing up, what were your design influences?
My whole education before moving to London was more about art and sculpture. The only fashion I was exposed to was The Clothes Show on a Sunday, then when Tom Ford first started designing at Gucci, I remember this big yellow coat that looked like a massive ball of fluff. I just thought it was amazing.
What was St Martins like?
The only reason that I went there was because of Louise Wilson. You know they have those things at the back of the Sunday Times where they interview really successful people in their fields? Well I read the Louise Wilson one and she talked about St Martins and it just sounded like a really amazing place. I always wanted to go to London but now I had found somewhere that I wanted to study. I was always really pissed off that she never taught me - I couldn't afford to do the MA after the BA. She has this reputation for being really horrible but if you can't deal with Louise then you can't deal with anything outside of college. You have to fight for what you want at St Martins, even the librarians are horrible and bitchy but they are just preparing you.
Now you have been invited back to teach.
To have just left college and then to be invited back to teach was quite weird. I haven't been paid for it yet!
What do your mum and dad do?
My dad's a policeman and my mam has worked in a call center. I used to work there as well, for Littlewoods catalog.
What other jobs have you had?
The first job I ever had, was for an envelope-packing place. I had to do it just before the NYT so that my Mam and Dad didn't have to give me loads of money to survive the summer in London. I also used to work at the only posh shop in Sunderland that sells Vivienne Westwood and Moschino, and Topshop where I was the Visual Merchandiser.
When did you move to London?
I had just turned 19.
How did you meet Matthew (Stone) and the !WOWOW!'s?
Matthew is one of my oldest friends in London. We used to live together in halls in Tooting. We also used to do this really bad line for Topshop!
What was it called?
I am not going to tell you, Ben! There are some things you will never get out of me. (laughs)
How did the !WOWOW! thing come about?
It evolved after Matthew found this amazing warehouse space in Peckham, it became a circle of people who lived and worked in the same space. There were no rules, kind of like a youth club. The space had an actual nightclub and a theatre already set up so that was where the bands would play. There was a big stage and lights and a DJ booth - it was perfect. Our parties were full of amazing, talented people. Lots of gay boys in fancy dress. Then we were kicked out. !WOWOW! is still !WOWOW! but it has become more spread, which is a good thing.
How did Fashion House (a reality TV show) come about?
I had just left college and was signing on for quite some time and then someone said 'Okay, do you want to go to Rome'? I don't want to be thought of as someone doing what I am doing via this TV show. I hate that reference. Like Vernon Kay getting to where he is because of Model Behavior - it's not that easy. I am at this point in my life through really hard work, not because of a really bad TV show.
I remember your outfit on the show with the falling pearls.
Matthew told me about a dream where I made costumes for Björk. In the dream she pulled off her pants and all these pearls fell out of her. My outfit on the show was a kind of pregnant suit with these massive tits and when the model came to the end of the catwalk she pulled this thing under her stomach and hundreds and hundreds of pearls fell out from her fanny! It is weird how things go into your consciousness.
Did you like being on television?
No, I was just so disenchanted by the whole thing. The director originally told me that it was going to be a modern day Clothes Show which really excited me. But it wasn't.
Do you hate being labelled the new Leigh Bowery/Alexander McQueen?
I just think people like to contextualize what I do. I wouldn't actually mind being a penny behind McQueen, whereas Leigh Bowery was a club kid and to be associated with that in a design context is not such a good thing. I certainly don't dispute that I owe a lot to Kashpoint. We used to go there because you didn't feel silly for getting dressed up and the drink was cheap. The whole process of getting ready, drinking on the bus, drinking in the street before you actually arrived was the best part.
Via your collections you've received all these amazing commissions like the Deitch Art Parade, Kylie tour costumes, the HSBC ad... Do you plan on giving up the catwalk in the future?
Ideally I will just carry on doing what I am doing but getting more money, I'd like to be more comfortable.
Do you want to see people wearing your clothes, or do you see your clothes as art?
Penny from SHOWStudio showed me the new Dior couture show and it's amazing. It just looks like plastic bags. The show receives loads of publicity and that in turn helps sell a lot of Dior lipsticks, sunglasses and handbags. Commerciality has never been a concern for me, but I would love to see someone prancing down the street in my stuff.
So are you ultimately looking to create an aesthetic that hopefully people will buy into?
It's kind of really weird at the moment. I have this brand but nothing to sell.
What have been your proudest achievements so far?
To be involved in the Dazed & Confused cover was just amazing. My Mam and Dad could go and buy that in WH Smith and it was on the cover. To do this shoot with Nick Knight, to show at London Fashion Week, being asked to do things for i-D. The Kylie tour, being flown over to New York to dress Fischerspooner! It's really weird.
What was Kylie like?
It was really weird meeting her, I know everyone says it, but she is really small. I met her in this massive rehearsal studio, and I hadn't slept for two days working on her stuff and I looked like death. There was no point of reference for me to get any perspective on scale so it just looked like she was very far away. She was really lovely though, small but perfectly formed. Yes there have been far too many amazing things that have happened, I could never put them into a list.
After the light up dress, the blow-up dress and the poodle. Are you worried about your next showstopper?
I do because people expect one. That's why to a certain extent I put the poodle in the middle of the show because I personally wanted to get away from the anticipation. For the light-up dress Casey (Spooner) had to sign these forms to say that if he was killed it was my fault and not the company who made it. I felt really bad.
About electrocuting your models?
It's quite a big weight to have on my shoulders.
Do you buy magazines?
No. Actually I do. That's a lie. I bought about six magazines last week on Brick Lane. I was flicking through these secondhand magazines and there was this big feature about my stuff. I was like... 'Oh'. So I had to buy it. I felt I was like Gary Barlow going into HMV and seeing your single in the bargain bin!
Where do you go shopping?
The last new thing I bought were my white jeans from Primark. I don't really have time or money to go shopping.
Do your parents understand what you do?
With the Kylie thing I got my Mum and Auntie tickets to see her in Birmingham. It's things like that, that make sense to them, because it's something real.
Have you decided on the theme for your next show?
I had an idea a while back, of a jacket that you could insert things into the pocket that inflate to make it into a big shape. You could wear it inflated for winter and then deflate it for the summer version. That idea started off with an inflatable armband. I was playing around with one the other day and figured out you can gaffer tape them into different shapes. I just want to tape 200 together and see what it looks like. That will then lead onto something else. You know those foil balloons that you get on your birthday? Well, you can sew them like fabric, so it's the first time I'm literally making clothes out of balloons. It's just moving it on. I have always used balloons but this is a progression.
It could be amazing.
For the poodle I sent one of my interns down to the sexual health clinic to pick up loads of condoms because that was the only thing we could get to make the right shape for the poodle ears. So the poodle ears are cast from two Durex condoms. We washed the spermicide off them first I hasten to add!
I should hope so. I'm obsessed with food at the moment. What is your typical meal?
At the moment it would be pizza, a cigarette and a can of coke. Which is a step up from this time last year when it would be a Greg's pasty, a cigarette and a can of coke. I never eat properly when I am busy. When I am doing my collections I get strains of scurvy. Last season I felt like a kind of lizard because my skin was just peeling off. I wasn't getting enough vitamins or drinking enough water so my skin was just dying in very odd areas of my body that are definitely not supposed to be dry.
Like a pirate!
Yes, it's horrible.
Will you be using more color this season?
I've never really used color or if I have it's always been a specific kind of color, which always has reference to me. I don't just use it because it's pretty.
More like a statement, like your use of red?
Yes, the red and white of Sunderland. When you start to mess around with colour it really takes away the emphasis from the shape and proportions of the clothes.
When you start each collection, do you look at reference books?
I never look at books. It's never something that I do to find an idea. Which is kind of a problem I have.
Not being able to read?
And that! (laughs) But no, I have to rely a lot on myself to come up with an idea. The inception lies in who I am, what I've come from or what I do and the things that surround me. That's what is interesting for me to do.
What has been you favourite outfit so far?
My favourite outfit was the light coat. It was constructed the night before the collection. That was the nearest I have come to crying because it was just such a relief. I was watching the show backstage and somebody must have taken a picture with a flash. I thought that flash on the playback monitor was Casey (Spooner) short-circuiting. I was like 'fuck, it's broken and I've killed Casey'! Then five seconds later it worked - lights up! I was like 'OHMYGOD'!
It looked absolutely amazing...
Yes, it did. If only I had the money to do the things I wanted, it would all be amazing.
Do you feel like your show at London fashion week has to be the showstopper?
I just do what I do. I just hope that people are at least a little bit interested in it. That's why I originally wanted to use No Limit as the title for this piece, because that song is one of the first songs that entered the British charts with hardly any words. I feel to a certain extent that is what I do. I do fashion shows but I don't actually make clothes!
Stills part of 'Fash Off' project featuring Gareth Pugh, 2006. Courtesy of www.SHOWstudio.com