February 14, 2006
Just when it seemed like the good old days of rebellious British eccentricity were over, along comes a pale youth, late of Central Saint Martins, who stages a fashion carnival for his first solo show. His name is Gareth Pugh, a lad from dour, post-industrial Sunderland, and he sent out a parade of perverse-looking harlequins with pom-pom hairdos, painted faces, and pointy hats. They wore vinyl bodysuits, towering platform Doc Martens, gargantuan ruffs, and voluminous checkered boleros and coats in black and gold. If the effect was a bit silly, there was also something defiantly ridiculous in devoting so much time and money to something so playful. To set the tone, he bounced a few giant black-and-white helium balloons into the audience before the show began. (Pugh has a thing about balloons.)
Though Pugh is the new sensation among the febrile design-student London clique, he's merely the latest addition to a long tradition of fashion-as-performance-art that stretches back through Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood to the eighties club culture of Leigh Bowery. That, of course, is ancient history to Pugh's generation, who grew up starved of fashion fun in the dour days of grunge and minimalism. It's no wonder that kids like him want to break out a bit now. As for grown-ups who might worry how he'll survive, well, there were precisely two coatsone with mink sleeves and a ruffled front, and another with hyperinflated lapels (that balloon influence again)that might just keep the wolf from his door.