In 1991, Gareth Pugh and Katie Shillingford were ten years old. They’re a bit older now – one is a successful fashion designer, and the other works as his stylist and senior fashion editor of Dazed. Graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2003, Dazed was the first to celebrate his work, featuring the red and white balloons from his BA collection on the cover in April 2004. Pugh first showed at London Fashion Week in February 2005, and it was there that Shillingford met Nicola Formichetti who soon brought her under his wing at Dazed. Since then, Pugh has collaborated with Nick Knight on numerous projects, including a spectacular cover story for Dazed (October 2008), and subsequently with Knight’s former assistant Ruth Hogben, who together have championed fashion film as a medium – substituting his Paris shows in A/W 2009 and S/S 2011 with moving images. Here, Shillingford talks to her friend about life in 1991, and how the past 20 years have shaped their worlds.
Dazed & Confused: Do you have any specific memories from 1991?
Gareth Pugh: For my tenth birthday, my mum took me down to London to see Phantom Of The Opera. Somehow we accidentally booked a limo, which was quite amazing! It was when Häagen-Dazs had just opened in Leicester Square but there was a huge queue, so we went to Pizza Hut instead.
I remember walking down Old Compton Street, and compared to what it’s like now, it was dark back then. There were dirty little bars and lap-dancing joints with women sat outside on stools trying to draw people in. London just seemed really big and scary, but very exciting. That was the first time I had been and the first time I saw what else was on offer. You’re lucky, you grew up here, but for someone from where I’m from, it was like coming to another world.
D&C: What else were you into back then?
Gareth Pugh: Well, 1991 would have been one of the first times I ever did pantomime. In Sunderland, it’s a big deal. In September there are always these huge auditions at the Sunderland Empire where there’s a queue of tightly knitted buns around the theatre. It’s really scary, because you audition on the stage and there’s a choreographer who shows you the steps, and you have to do it in lines of ten. They teach you this three-minute routine and if you’re not called, then you have to go home.
D&C: Did you have to go home?
Gareth Pugh: No, but I was one of the only boys, so I had quite an advantage over the other people!
D&C: What were you in the pantomime?
Gareth Pugh: I was an owl – I think that year there was a girl from Home And Away who was over playing Snow White… no expense spared! I wore a big mask covered in feathers, and brown tights, and a little stubby owl costume with wings. I remember the year before I was cast as the Pied Piper of Hamelin in primary school. That was embarrassing, with a costume made out of a pair of pink, glittery curtains that my mum had bought from Oxfam.
D&C: When did you start dancing?
Gareth Pugh: It must have been from when I was nine, until I started my A-levels, I think. It was too much to keep up, my college was miles away from where I lived and to get back to class was expensive. I made the choice to not pursue it, because I thought I was better at art than dance. (Laughs)Hopefully, I made the right choice!
D&C: Well, it’s always something to fall back on...
Gareth Pugh: Exactly!
D&C: Were you reading magazines then?
Gareth Pugh: My mum, my aunties and my nan used to swap Good Housekeeping, She and Bella, so I was very unaware of things like i-D and The Face, and obviously back then Dazed had just started. When I was 14 or 15, I was hunting out other things, but there are very few magazines available to you in Sunderland unless you knew what to ask for, and I didn’t. OK! Magazine used to do a catwalk supplement, their version of Collezione. (Laughs)It was really good though, I’ve still got them! It’s kind of amazing, they had all of the old Owen Gaster shows and McQueen, also Philip Treacy, Julien Macdonald and Galliano when he had just started at Dior. It was my only little glimpse into that world.
D&C: What do you think defines an era?
Gareth Pugh: I don’t know, lots of things. I remember reading an article at the end of the 90s in my brother’s Arena Homme +. They were trying to define what the style of 90s was, through clothes – but the 90s was perhaps very difficult to define in terms of style! To define an era entirely there are so many things – art, music, fashion, technology… I suppose that was one of the big things of the 90s, the opening up of information to a broader audience.
D&C: I suppose that’s what will probably define the 00s now – that development of technology…
Gareth Pugh: Oh yeah, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google… all technology really. Obviously, there are other things that happened, like the first black president of America, and the war in Iraq. I already feel quite separated from the generation below us because of things like Facebook, Twitter and blogging, which we didn’t have as teens. I don’t really get it. I think it’s too much, it’s an overload, and I don’t like that aspect of it. It means the way we live now is so much faster than it used to be. Before, with monthly magazines, a magazine would define what that month was. That’s the great thing about magazines – they are little bookmarks in time, whereas now, there’s no time to bookmark anything because it’s all happening in real time. But now you have so much choice, so much information – there’s so much to absorb. You just have to look at someone like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber – it’s just a phenomenon of the world in which we live, and it would have never happened before, but it’s amazing that things like that can happen at all. It’s like that stupid video on YouTube with that little kid biting that other kid’s finger – funnily enough, I was watching that video the other day, it has over 350 million hits. It bothers me that that can happen, but that’s just the way it is.
D&C: But I suppose that’s how so many people have seen your films. Do you think people will ever wholly accept the fashion film as a substitute to a fashion show?
Gareth Pugh: I think to have both is what I want to do next – so you’re communicating with an audience through a live show, and you have a film that is more about the world in which those clothes exist, which can be seen anywhere online. Show images exist online forever, but the idea that went behind that show is lost, and at the end of the day it’s bar-coded, it’s shipped out and it’s available to everybody. With the film, an emotion can live on forever.
D&C: Can you ever see yourself branching outside of the world of fashion?
Gareth Pugh: Definitely. But whatever I do it’s always going to be something that’s visual. My parents have a very different view on work, they go and earn their money to fund their life, and I think with what we do, it’s fair to say it’s not the same thing. I haven’t done anything for my birthday in the past seven years because of what I do, so it’s a kind of love/hate relationship. Living in Sunderland, you create a little world in your head, because that world doesn’t exist in your reality. The things that we do, it creates that little world you made up and communicates these ideas in a visual way to other people. If you break it down, it’s just clothes, it’s just a bit of glitter on a set. But it’s not just that, and it goes back to the point that my fashion shows need to be more than just clothes, they need to be a whole world of otherness.
KATIE SHILLINGFORD is senior fashion editor of DAZED & CONFUSED, and also works as GARETH PUGH’S stylist – they have worked together since 2005
Photography AJ NUMAN
Dazed & Confused's October issue, 'Come Together: 20th Anniversary Special', is out now. Click HERE to check out the other, already published, Q&As celebrating the issue