Gareth Pugh’s Triumphant Political Rebellion

Features. Posted 3 years ago

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Gareth Pugh returned home a couple of days ago, to London Fashion Week, after seven years of showing his collection in Paris. It’s appropriate – and perhaps purposeful – that Pugh chose the Victoria and Albert museum as his show’s location, as it’s currently being prepared to host the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition. Just like McQueen, Pugh has mined his country’s political history to make comment on its present – something English fashion designers seem inimitably adept at.

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Image: Gareth Pugh winter 2015-16, London Fashion Week. Image via Timesunion.com

Punk is, arguably, the most profound anti-governmental, counter-cultural movement to emerge from England, and it really epitomizes – and eclipses – the way artists of the country stage cultural political protest. The aesthetic of punk and the sound of punk are both savage, dirty, unruly things. Dr. Martens, studded leather jackets, shaved heads. Live recordings, shouting, rage-filled vocals, hand-made (usually rude), collage record covers.

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Image: God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols

While the Sex Pistols were defacing images of Queen Elizabeth and Vivienne Westwood was creating daytime clothing out of bondage gear, over in the States the New Age movement – and a couple of really terrifying cults based on this belief system – was really gaining traction. This isn’t to say that either are exclusive to each country – the punk movement was strong in Washington DC and the anti-police riots in New York were super aggressive, and there were clusters of New Age believers in the UK too – it’s just to say that that these seem to be the major counter cultural movements of both countries; the ones embedded into our understanding of each place.

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Image: Gareth Pugh winter 2015-16, London Fashion Week. Image via Vogue.com

Perhaps it’s the bloody history of England, whether via their own actions (colonisation), or the actions of others (the world wars), or just the inclement weather, because the political outlook of English creatives just looks and feels really brutal and nasty. England gets very little sun, and the culture that comes from the place gets absolutely none.

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Image: Gareth Pugh winter 2015-16, London Fashion Week. Image via Vogue.com

Enter Alexander McQueen, one of the most prolific English designers of the 20th Century. His posthumous exhibition, Savage Beauty sold out at MoMA and is about to open at the V&A in London. It spans from his 1992 graduate collection to his last collection before his tragic death, and is categorized into several thematic concerns that drive his work, including Romantic Gothic, which McQueen described as, “People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality”, and Romantic Nationalism, which the Savage Beauty website describes as “often reflecting upon his ancestral history, specifically his Scottish heritage. Indeed, when he was once asked what his Scottish roots meant to him, the designer responded, ‘Everything'”. Highland Rape, for example, McQueen’s winter 1995-96 collection, explores the Clearances of the Scottish Highland by the English – an atrocious affair in which people were sacrificed in the name of greed. The collection explored McQueen’s obsession with the dark side of human nature and how this dark side manifests and affects people on a national scale. McQueen said of the collection, “people were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped—yet Highland Rape was about England’s rape of Scotland”.

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Image: Alexander McQueen, Highland Rape, winter 1995-96

Now Gareth Pugh has returned to London Fashion Week and his latest collection preserves the political, counter-culture conversation that’s so important to fashion. According to the Guardian, the show began with a video in which a model cut off her hair into an unruly, masculine crop, then smeared her face with red paint that resembled the St. George cross. Models entered the V&A ready to do battle: bearing the same makeup as in the film (handpainted by the MAC cosmetics team), they wore black military headpieces, breastplates and carried bright red oversize flags. Considering the St. George flag has become associated with St. George, the “warrior saint”, this collection is clearly a call to arms, perhaps even a rebellion against the monotonous, anti-meaning of the past few seasons. The models were intimidating-as-hell, that’s for sure, which is generally what one wants when a declaration of war, of meaning, of power, is being made.

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Image: Gareth Pugh winter 2015-16, London Fashion Week. Image via Businessinsider.com

Gareth Pugh’s return to London Fashion Week not only evokes the politically significant English fashion of the past, it confirms that – regardless of fast-fashion, of Normcore, of all of that – politically significant fashion will exist in the future, too.

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