British designer Gareth Pugh can be credited as the man who helped a generation of pop stars find their inner cyborg. Somewhere within the province of pop’s stylish, future-obsessed upgrade of 2008/2009, Pugh found a willing musical clientele in Beyoncé, Rihanna, and other boldfaced names. By donning his “Vent” dress in her video for “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” Miss Knowles was the first mainstream American star to take the plunge into Pugh territory, following in the intrepid footsteps of Irish provocateur Roisin Murphy, who’d been a loyal and unofficial musicial muse to the designer for years. Pugh’s Spring 2012 collection, presented yesterday in Paris, is a daunting step into his darker psyche, exploring themes of imprisonment, torture, and isolation. One can imagine Murphy, or even Lady Gaga, enjoying the pervy S&M twists, but will more traditionally glamorous stars like Beyoncé be able to get into the twisted groove?
In an introductory video by Ruth Hogben, model Crystal Renn appears naked and in literal “human bondage,” setting the anguished tone of the show. Hogben, who used to assist cinematographer Nick Knight, carries on her mentor’s interest in insectoid aesthetics, as seen in his work with Massive Attack. That symbolism translates potently in her work for Pugh, who is tranfixed with transhumanist silhouettes and apparati.
The outfits that followed can only be described as taking stylized confinement to new and literal extremes. Most outfits would be considered wondrously constructed cages, armor-like and terrifying, with the ribs extending like hooded muzzles upwards over the model’s heads at various points. Though Pugh’s aesthetic realm is resolutely futuristic, traces of iconic 90s fetishist visuals littered the show. Think of Marilyn Manson’s obsession with prosthetics paired with Trent Reznor’s Joel-Peter Witkin phase and Alexander McQueen’s early explorations of goth-tinged sadomasochism, and you have an approximation of where Pugh’s head is at for Spring 2012. It’s a violent and distressing place, and jarring contrast to the generally upbeat and sporty themes seen on other catwalks this season. His more sordid admirers will certainly appreciate the deviance, but will any of it translate to retail — or to the domain of the innocuous pop video? Time will only tell.
Watch Gareth Pugh’s Spring 2012 Film by Ruth Hogben (Warning: NSFW):