If so far this season we’ve mostly seen political protest as modelled on the modern phenomenon of slacktivism, leave it to Gareth Pugh to take things seriously. The designer gathered his audience in the bowels of a building in North London. Stripped to a bare concrete structure with all sorts of supporting joists and poles exposed and dust settled upon every surface there was a feeling of being in a bunker, or the sort of abandoned construction project that becomes a hunting ground in zombie movies. Cue feelings of unease, claustrophobia and the slowly-dawning reality that bunkers and baddies are no longer just the stuff of B-movies. To further add to the discomfort, the show’s soundtrack mimicked the enhanced interrogation of the CIA’s sleep deprivation techniques by jump-cutting and looping samples to disorienting, discordant effect. Coupled with strobing and searchlights and the slow, determined pace of the models, the whole experience was uncomfortable to say the least.
Pugh was clear in his unsettling intent: his show notes referenced trips to Moscow, Beijing, Istanbul and Washington - the latter purposefully timed to coincide with the US Presidential election - in an 'ambiguous and unsettling time'. The fact that the US is quickly becoming at home in a list of authoritarian states is troubling to say the least.
Pugh’s vision for the resistance was almost entirely black-clad, with strong shoulders, nipped-in waists above exaggerated hips and billowing wide leg trousers creating an amplified vision of femininity. There were overt references to the SS in The Night Porter-inspired caps and trench coats in heavy leather and wool. A vinyl-shiny stiff-fronted bodice resembled a riot police shield. Garbage bag-like plastic coats and dresses were puffed-up and billowy, inflated with so much political hot air. Occasional respite from black came courtesy of shaggy faux fur two-tone dyed in shades of mushroom and ice blue. Used as voluminous trims and stoles, coats and capes there is certainly something appealing about shrouding yourself in softness when the political climate is so harsh.
This collection wasn’t solely about covering up, concealing the body and taking refuge, though. Stiff, wide ribbons created cage-like constructions around the body, while sheer netting sprinkled with paillettes was cut into tops and a floor-length dress worn with stompy bovver boots. A post-apocalyptic take on red carpet dressing perhaps, or what to wear to the latest propaganda premiere.
Some of Pugh’s silhouettes and techniques were riffs on the familiar and indeed referenced career highlight collections. But, this time, they seemed fuelled by a renewed sense of purpose and an attempt to reclaim power.