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Gareth Pugh AW17
Backstage at Gareth Pugh AW17Photography Lillie Eiger

Gareth Pugh creates a Night Porter inspired power play

Last night, the designer looked to the controversial Nazi S&M film to face the dystopian reality of a post-truth world

Fashion is an industry often criticised as bubble-like; an insular universe wrapped up in its own importance. But with the world “on the precipice of anarchy” (as Gareth Pugh’s show notes declared it), resistance is vital.

Last night, Pugh stared down the barrel of the gun currently aimed squarely at our liberties by pussy grabbers and politicians alike. His audience descended a precarious, narrow staircase deep below the streets of North London to line benches in a cavernous, circular concrete space. A set of spotlights worked their way across the audience like they were searching out escapees, while the eerie, singsong voice of Julie Andrews called on those in attendance not to close their eyes. A pregnant moment of silence fell. And then noise –  blistering, frenetic sounds mixed by Matthew Stone, where counterculture and subculture (via Hendrix and Nirvana, possibly a snatch of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”) were mixed jarringly with chanting of ‘build the wall’ and ‘money makes the world go round’.

“The question seemed to be, in a post-truth, alt-right (or -reich) world, how do you address ideas of power and its abuses?”

Out stalked Erin O’Connor in a black leather trench, striking a hands on hips power pose for the flashing cameras. It was the first of a series of ‘Nazi chic’ references, inspired by Liliana Cavani’s controversial tale of SS sadomasochism The Night Porter (via Marilyn Manson circa The Golden Age Of Grotesque), that found its way into peaked black caps, armbands, gloves, and of course, a pair of black braces, worn over a bare chest. But rather than the Stockholm syndrome afflicted victim of a male fantasy, these characters were imposing, unquestionably the ones in control. Dominatrix Reba Maybury traded her usual PVC mac for a furry coat, and circled the space throwing looks at the audience. Others, made up of Pugh’s community of “activists, artists and outliers” stalked the room in black tailoring and billowing capes. Their eyes were entirely black, covered with bug-like plastic.

The question seemed to be, in a post-truth, alt-right (or -reich) world, how do you address ideas of power and its abuses? Were Pugh’s women empowered, here to tear down a toxic culture of masculinity, or dark reflections of the real authoritarianism that’s out there? Either way, the collection went deep into the darkest corners of our cultural psyche, even cultural trauma, and pulled out a vision that was truly menacing. From the claustrophobic, tomb-like space, to the jarring crescendo of sound (inspired by CIA sleep deprivation techniques), the experience was purposefully uncomfortable, a shock to the system after a day which featured the sparkling sequins of Michael Halpern or the frothy tulle of Molly Goddard. But the truth is, we should be terrified. Whatever darkness Pugh held a mirror to last night is really out there.