Archive for Gareth Pugh

Rick Owens – Shadowman (Metropolitan)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design, Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2011 by markcoflaherty

When the inevitable biography is written, Rick Owens’ life story will read like one of the dark, sensational and glamorous works of literature that he’s such a fan of: an art student from a small town becomes a druggy, bisexual, noir-nailed goth within the LA demi-monde of trannies and hustlers. He studies pattern cutting and hooks up romantically with fabulous, diamond-toothed celebrity restaurateur cum stripper cum lawyer, Michele Lamy. Spotted by Anna Wintour, he takes New York Fashion Week by storm and moves to Paris, to become the most influential designer of the 21st century…

Rick Owens, Paris ©

Right now, Rick Owens is the overlord of high and dark fashion. His collections sell out at record speeds and Rizzoli have just published a coffee-table-sized coffee table book on his work. He’s attracted a cult following for his severe, often sinister, monochrome, draped jersey and leather aesthetic. This afternoon, when he walks into one of the vast, whitewashed, concrete-floored rooms of his 7th arrondissement HQ – its shelves littered with skulls and Kaiser spiked helmets – one might expect an accompanying soundtrack of 5am Berghain Berlin techno, and perhaps for the temperature in the room to drop. Instead he carries a tiny espresso cup and plays Dorothy Squires Live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on his iPhone. “I like Dusty, but I really burnt out listening to her,” he says. “Now I listen to Dorothy Squires all day long. She has that whisky and cigarettes tone to her voice and I find her really moving.”

His fixation with the late Welsh songstress – and one time Mrs Roger Moore – is far from contradictory. Everything in Rick Owens’ universe fits perfectly into place: the gothic tendencies, the transgressive sexuality, the austere, monastic, concrete aesthetic now translated into limited edition furniture, and the camp… Everything has its purpose. Like the high heels he designs for men, inspired by “the virility of Kiss in concert”. And the bumper-car hi-top sneakers inspired by “gangs in LA using their shoes to anchor huge basketball shorts, in an almost kabuki way.” But there are unusual interests too. He loves the BBC sitcom Nighty Night so much that he sold the DVD in his stores in London and Paris and he’s a huge Gary Numan fan. “I think of Gary when I’m working on every collection!” he says.

Still very much the anything-but-quintessentially American in Paris (he refuses to learn French, believing it’ll take far too long, and he likes the “layer of privacy” it provides), he frequently Channel hops and finds the contrast with London fascinating. “In London the kids are so much cuter,” he says. “There’s a scruffiness that the Parisians just won’t allow themselves. In Paris it’s about APC jeans, white button down shirts and a blazer, and in London it’s all wittier and cheekier.” Owens is drawn to the often acidic and subversive nature of British culture, from early 20th century socialite Stephen Tennant to the 80s “queer” filmmaker Derek Jarman. “It’s that British dry wit I love. I’m reading a lot of Beverley Nichols from the 1920s, which has a lovely Cecil Beaton quality. There is an imperturbability about the British, while the French make a big thing about pretending not to be perturbed, but they are. They’re always indignant.”

When Owens travels to London with his partner Michele, they stay at Claridges – although if he’s travelling alone, he’ll stay at the Savoy “because the deco is more severe, and darker” – and spend their time exploring galleries and museums. “I always return to the Joseph Beuys room at the Tate Modern,” he says. “And I loved the Whistler show at Tate Britain. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been in love with him before. He belonged to the most exciting of times.”

Rick Owens, Paris ©

Owens studied to be an artist, but turned to fashion because “art seemed like entering the priesthood, and I’m too frivolous” – though he now adores the pomp of the contemporary art scene. “I was at the Bermondsey White Cube opening recently and it was like Hollywood, all neon bulbs and epic proportions. And as we were leaving, there was a crowd of people behind the velvet ropes. It was so Day of the Locust, I wallowed in it.” He also moves in offbeat London circles: Lamy backs the designer Gareth Pugh, so there are strong links between the Pugh and Owens labels. “There’s a group around Gareth that have a great allure and mystique,” he says. “That crowd from Ponystep and Boombox are so talented, sharp, fun and sweet.”

When Owens and Lamy are out in Paris and London, they are the ultimate ambassadors for his brand: Michele in a ton of jewellery and Owens’ clothing, looking like a vampiric Egyptian priestess, and Rick with the poker-straight black locks that have become as iconic in fashion as Lagerfeld’s ponytail and Menkes’ quiff. And of course, always clad in black or grey, “even on the beach”. So committed is he to the palette that on the counter of his London and Paris stores there are bowls of M&Ms in varying shades of grey. Monochrome is the only thing that makes sense to him. “It sends a message,” he explains. “It says  ‘don’t look at my outfit, I’m presenting my face to you. You don’t have to look at anything else, I’m not trying to capture your attention with an interesting shoelace’.”

Owens spring 2012 collection is a development of his black and white aesthetic, with dresses for men and prints for women that hark back to the deco of the 20s. “I love that linear modernism,” he says. “It’s aspirational with a simple elegance. And I think it’s quite melancholy, because it’s looking for a perfection that will always be out of reach, forever.” And the future? Before that inevitable biography and the museum retrospectives? More furniture, perhaps a move into colour, but with a promise that it will “never be banal, or Marks & Spencer’s…” And then perhaps a hotel, finished with raw, bunker-like textures and fur bedspreads. “I’d love to create something on a nice coastline, somewhere remote. Maybe in North Africa, which is close enough, but far enough too. And on the top floor I’d create a Gary Numan suite.”


Because the Knight (Aston Martin magazine)

Posted in Art, Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2010 by markcoflaherty

It’s a Sunday morning, and Nick Knight is in his uncharacteristically quiet Mayfair studio trying to get on top of post and emails. There’s a busy week ahead: a shoot for American Vogue, two days working with Kate Moss and a trip to Buckingham Palace to pick up an OBE. He allows himself a wry smile while pondering his meeting with the Queen: ‘It certainly isn’t something that was on my radar,’ he says. ‘But I’m very flattered.’

Nick Knight for British Vogue, 2008


Nick Knight is the most celebrated fashion photographer in the world today. While best known for his unique brand of contemporary, fantastical gloss – including Manga-inspired Dior advertising campaigns – his early work was markedly different. He rose to prominence in the 1980s with a book of raw, black and white documentary shots of London skinheads. He went on to work with i-D magazine during its most influential era, injecting fashion editorial with a fresh kind of clubland-sourced verisimilitude, far removed from the runway lipgloss of Condé Nast. Always changing, always pushing boundaries, Knight worked with a tight-knit band of stylists and art directors and forged a bold, stark sophistication.  His peers – including Dior’s John Galliano – would go on to become the new establishment. His work since, collaborating with the world’s most iconoclastic fashion designers and musicians (and Lady Gaga) has been nothing short of revolutionary, exhibited in some of the world’s most important galleries as fine art.

Knight has an absolute mastery of light and a choreographer’s eye for silhouette and attitude. He’s also constantly ahead of the technological curve, creating seemingly impossible images and flights of fantasy with sorcerous digital post-production. In 2000, in collaboration with art director Peter Saville, he launched, a virtual gallery and interactive workspace for a whole host of his contemporaries. Knight’s own shoots are frequently streamed live via the site, as well as being reworked into arresting standalone short films in their own right. ‘It represents 100% of what I do now,’ he says. For Knight, fashion and film is the way forward – a natural progression for a visual artist, and an industry, informed by romanticised notions of men and women in motion.

‘The strongest element of fashion photography has always been movement,’ says Knight. ‘If you look at someone like Richard Avedon, there’s a feeling of energy and life in the work, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. I want it to feel like it’s bursting off the page. Film was an obvious thing to happen after photography, because if you have a medium that can distribute moving fashion, that’s what people will want. My films are seen by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, while a set of stills for a low circulation magazine may be seen by a couple of thousand. The figures just don’t compare.’

Fashion media in the 21st century is undeniably a world away from the Polaroid culture of i-D’s heyday. Starting in the late 1980s, Knight shot twelve catalogues for Yohji Yamamoto with the art director Marc Ascoli. The imagery from them has become truly iconic. A shot of model Susie Bick, smoking, artfully slumped sideways on a chair like a dancer from one of Yamamoto’s beloved Pina Bausch productions, may be one of the most famous fashion images of the last century. A sequence of silhouetted shots of Naomi Campbell, twirling around in a voluminous red coat, predated and outshone the strikingly similar global iPod campaign by two decades. All of the images had the urgency of motion that now informs Knight’s films, and at the time belonged to a world of print. Now we live in a digital world, where SHOWstudio streams catwalk shows live across the globe, and where in some cases film has taken the place of the runway: designer Gareth Pugh produces a film with the website each season to present his new collection, and last autumn showed a film without any formal catwalk presentation.

Although Knight’s world is driven by technology, he has little formal interest in it himself. ‘I’m not fascinated by technology,’ he says. ‘I’m interested in life. I’m not looking for the next invention or charting where the curve is. Technology is never quite as good as it could be, whether it’s a car you’re driving or a camera, but then that’s good because it makes us push things forward.’

Many photographers paint themselves into a commercially successful corner. Think of Paolo Roversi’s amber, painterly images shot with long exposures and an antique patina, or Bruce Weber’s all-American muscle boys with floppy fringes and waxed chests, cavorting in monochrome. The most consistent aspect of Knight’s work is that it dazzles. His work with the late Alexander McQueen had a brooding darkness and violence to it, frequently morphing models with wild animals, while his Vogue covers – including putting Kylie Minogue into a giant, burlesque Champagne glass – are effervescent and bright. Each shoot is different because of who he’s working with, and his desire to avoid repetition. ‘I don’t want to use the same lighting twice, whether that’s using the headlights of my car to light the subject, or taking a picture with my phone,’ he says. ‘I’m not interested in finding out the answers to questions I’ve already answered. If there’s any similarity in my work, it’s that I start at zero. It’s the same point that I started at 30 years ago standing in front of a group of skinheads.’ The only standard element of his working day is his perennial uniform of white tailored shirt, black Tricker’s brogues and Levi’s 505s.

The collaborative nature of Knight’s work is, in an industry of ego-driven auteurs, remarkable, particularly his collaborations with McQueen, John Galliano, and Peter Saville, each a notoriously determined visual artist in their own right. ‘The most difficult person I work with is myself,’ says Knight. ‘Everyone else pales into niceness. People are just people and whoever I’m working with, I want to understand the world how they see it. In each instance, it starts and works in a different way. With Galliano he explains the desires behind his collection, I see the live show, make proposals to him about how I might interpret those desires, then there’s a five to seven day shoot. There’s a “Dior lens” that we use that gives a signature element to the images and in the same way that some American R&B music is heavily produced, there are six to eight weeks of post production on each of the images.’

Musicians relish working with Knight, who can bring seemingly impossible, intangible elements to enhance the promotional aspects of their work far beyond the prosaic portrait. He depicted Björk being pierced and sewn in the controversial video for ‘Pagan Poetry’, while his cover artwork for Pulp and Suede defined their style for years. In each case, the imagery stemmed from the sounds. ‘When I worked with Suede on Coming Up, the starting point was Brett Anderson’s lyrics,’ says Knight. ‘Then there was the embrace of certain other references. Peter Saville and I were enamoured with a German painter called Paul Wunderlich.’ If the figurative aspects of the imagery (elegantly wasted youths on a mattress) came from Anderson, the tone from Wunderlich and the digital-psychedelic texture from Saville’s obsession with digital filters, then it was Knight who brought it all together, choreographed it and facilitated the final image – the conductor of a visual symphony, as always.

‘A shoot is always a performance,’ says Knight. ‘The more you get people involved, the better the performance is. I want to work with people who can show me things that I can’t see.’ Which is something Knight continues to do, in the most astounding of ways, for the rest of us.



Cool as folk (House)

Posted in Art, Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2010 by markcoflaherty

One of the more unusual sights at one of London’s most well attended fashion parties last year was that of Rei Kawakubo, the notoriously glacial Comme des Garçons designer, being instructed on the finer points of Morris Dancing. The Folklore Fete, a fundraiser for the Museum of British Folklore was, as the fashion world says without any sense of its own ridiculousness, ‘a moment’. It was also affirmation that folk culture – both in the UK and abroad – is enjoying a very 21st century kind of renaissance in popularity and credibility. For a whole bandwagon-load of hipsters (essentially the bearded Urban Outfitter-clad redux of Beat-loving folkie troubadours of old), the Jack in the Green is the new black and it’s all wicker, man. And yet, there’s a lot more substance to it all than a bunch of pissed-up bank holidays on the Kent coast and gentle guitar refrains from Portland Oregon.

The Folklore Fete’s host, Simon Costin, is one of fashion’s most influential figures. More than that, he’s a fine artist in his own right: Costin’s formative career saw him working on film projects with Derek Jarman and later creating shamanistic jewellery from bones and semen. Since then he has designed theatrical, seemingly impossible sets for Nick Knight and Steven Klein, made rain fall on Alexander McQueen’s catwalk and recently helped recreate the centre of Paris at one-third scale inside the Grand Palais in the French capital for Sonia Rykiel and H&M. Last year’s Fete marked the launch of his Museum of British Folklore, scheduled to open in the south east of England in three years’ time. He subsequently went on a nationwide tour with a capsule collection of folk artefacts, including a corn dolly, a dessicated cat from the 15th century and a phallic wand from a coven in Sussex – all housed in a converted 70s Carry On-style caravan painted in Laduree macaroon colours and faded fairground swirls. This year the caravan appears again at a variety of fairs, while Simon curates a show at the Queens Gallery Hexham, as well as a string of summer-long exhibitions at a variety of venues, including the Gatehouse in Port Eliot.

Close friends Gareth Pugh and Stephen Jones contributed costume pieces for Costin to wear on tour – making Simon an integral part of the Museum experience. For milliner Jones the project struck an immediate chord: ‘I’d always thought I knew Britain and that it wasn’t exciting,’ he says. ‘Then I went to a village fair with my parents and we had our photograph taken with some prize turnips… when I looked at the picture afterwards it just looked so typically, eccentrically, English that it inspired me to put together a collection which I called Handmade in England. Then I bumped into Simon at JFK and he told me about his Museum.’

Folklore has been reworked in fashion more times than the shoulder pad. Vivienne Westwood showed several collections at the end of the 80s under the banner ‘Britain must go Pagan!’, and she’s never lost interest in Brit-folk imagery; last season she showed men’s rag rug knits in May Pole colours. Carmen Haid, of the online vintage fashion boutique Atelier Mayer, says a lot of the most sought-after pieces she handles have heavy folk influences: ‘Particularly the YSL 70s Ballets Russes collections; Ossie Clark’s Celia Birtwell prints and almost every collection by John Galliano.’ Galliano’s last collection riffed on the look again, with heavy folk-embroidery, lucky charms, and male models catwalking as platinum-blond horned satyrs.

As well as helping create fantasy worlds for the world’s most directional designers and documenting and curating the vernacular arts, Simon Costin has a passionate and personal relationship with folk culture. This spring he’ll appear, as in previous years, painted emerald and moving with the procession of other ‘bogeys’, black-faced Hunters Moon Morris men and ivy-headdressed locals through the old town of Hastings for the Jack in the Green festival. It’s but one of hundreds of events in the annual folk calendar; a schedule that’s growing apace. Certainly it’s no coincidence that there’s been a resurgence of all things folk at the same time as a global economic meltdown and the disappearance of (jobs aside) so much of what was really rubbish to begin with. ‘There’s been an estimated 25% increase in attendance at folk events around the country,’ says Simon Costin. ‘This might well be to do with a need to feel a part of something in a time of crisis, a part of a real community.’  Costin’s Museum will be made up of the past, present and future, acting as a catalyst for new craft as much as a space for document. ‘Britain is a tiny collection of islands and we have a wonderfully rich folkloric history, but we don’t celebrate it,’ he says. ‘This is a living tradition. Each generation reinvents things and makes it relevant to the modern day.’ Alongside his Museum projects, Costin is working on a book, to be published next year, of portraits of British folk festival participants, photographed by Henry Bourne.

Folk style, while very ‘of the moment’ is timeless. Roddy Woomble, the frontman of Scottish guitar band Idlewild, released his solo folk album My Secret is My Silence in 2006 and then went on to form a folk supergroup with Kris Drever and John McCusker. The band spent last year touring their album Before the Ruin, to slavish audience adoration. Both records are achingly beautiful and a paradigm of a whole backwards-to-go-forwards movement in music. While many cultural commentators are waiting for an equivalent of punk to come and wash away the creative void of light entertainment synonymous with Saturday night talent shows and Lady Ga Ga, the revolution might already be here, wearing a beard and waxing lyrical about Celtic legend. For Woomble, folk is perpetually modern because, he says, ‘it can’t get any older. People have always had stories and sung them into songs. Folk songs are elemental, like the wind. They can never go out of fashion because they pre-date it.’

Folk is very much the soundtrack to now: from Grizzly Bear and Shearwater in the States to the UK’s Blue Roses, Malcolm Middleton and Mumford & Sons, the accent is on all things candid, acoustic and which invite you to gather round and listen. For all the pretence that Britney’s recent stadium renaissance is ironic kitsch gold rather than the ghoulish showbiz equivalent of a dog eating its own sick, one can scarcely imagine the genuine excitement that would be generated by a live tour by Joni Mitchell or perhaps Kate Bush.

Folkie north London club night The Local started out life as a monthly event at a pub in Crouch End and has now expanded into tours, a festival and a record label – it’s a total phenomenon. The ceilidhs at Cecil Sharp House, where Costin’s Fete took place, are amongst the best-loved club nights in London with kilted queues snaking around the block. Rather like the Mighty Boosh truism that it’s impossible to be unhappy in a poncho, you can’t have a bad time at a ceilidh, if only because you’re compelled to dance with strangers. The ceilidh is the diametric opposite of all those dour, louche, bottle-service clubs in Mayfair and Midtown that now feel so mid-noughties. Like all things folk, it’s about getting back in touch with human nature and stripping things back to what’s important, as well as genuinely beguiling. It’s a human touch and it’s getting your hands dirty. You can see it in the handicraft that sells by the truckload on the DIY craft site and in the flamboyant toys, handbags and even wedding dresses that are coming out of the year-old Harris Tweed Cooperative in the Outer Hebrides. It’s even in the salted artisanal dark chocolate made in small exquisitely packaged batches in Williamsburg by the Mast Brothers, Rick and Michael, two chaps who look like an Amish duo on a shopping spree at Dover Street Market and who epitomise the slow food movement and integrity of craft in produce.

There is, of course, a potential disconnect between ‘fashion’ and ‘folk’, and some irony in the former embracing the latter (and yes, Dean & Deluca are selling that Mast Brothers chocolate for $10 a bar). Fashion is, by its very nature, ephemeral and disposable. It’s also, potentially, a shallow and fragile crafting of identity. Folk, on the other hand, comes with centuries worth of roots. It connects us all to something fundamental that makes a mockery of, and could potentially disassemble, a culture of idiocy and rubbish that can’t just be excused as post-modern frivolity any more. It’s the search for something a bit more real and a bit more rewarding; a pursuit which must be timeless.

High fashion folk (Blueprint)

Posted in Art with tags , , , , , , , on September 20, 2009 by markcoflaherty

In just under three years, one of the most extraordinary museums in Europe is scheduled to open. In the interim, the man behind the project is gearing up to tour a sample of what’s to come the length and breadth of the British Isles, taking with him a brightly coloured caravan, a dessicated cat from the 15th century and an array of very fancy hats. The Museum of Folklore is taking shape and going on tour…

Simon Costin, the man behind the Museum, is one of the fashion world’s most celebrated art directors. He made an acrylic, liquid-filled catwalk turn black mid-show for Alexander McQueen, and then showered torrential rain on the models. He put Kylie Minogue in an oversized champagne glass for the cover of Vogue, and made guests at a fashion launch in New York City clamber through a Fluxus web of Hermes ribbons to get into a party at which a key performance consisted of a cellist dismantling his instrument noisily, and slowly, with Hermes-designed tools.

‘Twisted’ is one of the ways he describes his work. ‘People, in fashion are so cosseted and pandered to that it’s nice to mess with their heads and twist their expectations.’ He’s bringing his unique, often unsettling aesthetic, forged with his interests in storytelling, magic, British vernacular arts and echoes of paganism, to his Museum project.

Simon’s interest in folklore stems from childhood holidays, encountering such glorious and uniquely British oddities as the Helston Furry Dance event in Cornwall, in which top-hatted villagers dance in a chain in and out of each other’s houses. ‘I visited a museum in St Ives,’ he says: ‘The woman who ran it had Kate Bush hair, reeked of patchouli and had lots of vernacular art objects – twisted glass canes and horse brasses. I thought the objects were magical, and her passion for them brought it all alive for me.’

Simon’s adult conviction in the importance of the museum project is similarly passionate: ‘We are a tiny collection of islands with a rich folkloric history, but we don’t celebrate it. I have been working on fund raising for the Museum with a representative of the Charity Commission at Hackney Council, Tebussum Rashid, and she’s amazing. She’s of Pakistani heritage and at our first meeting she totally threw me with such incredible support for what I want to do. “What is it with you people?” she said. “Why don’t you celebrate your own indigenous culture the way every other country does!?” And she’s right. Folklore and folk culture are great cultural signifiers. Folklore informs the culture that produces it and we produce a lot of it.’

While the current plan is to find a 7,000 square foot site for the museum and have it opened within three years, Costin is taking a capsule interpretation of it around a dozen folk festivals this summer to generate interest, as well as recce for exhibit objects and a potential building. Amongst the exhibits in the Museum Tour will be charms, a phallic wand, a jig doll and his dessicated cat, currently on loan from the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle and originally walled into an old abbey as a totem against mice. The charming Carry On-style camper van has been painted with naïve carnival patterns by Luka Crest from the Royal Opera House while Costin himself will touring in a selection of outfits made by Jenna Rossi-Camus that blend various sartorial folklore motifs: the buttons of Pearly Kings and Queens; smocking and barge-paint style emblems on embroidered gaiters. Also in the wardrobe will be gifts from colleagues from his fashion work: Stephen Jones is creating a range of hats for him, and Gareth Pugh a coat.

The whole aesthetic of the Museum of Folklore – from its typography to the exhibit designs – is being honed by the tour, and will blend the breezy, painted, yesteryear flash of the British fairground with mid 20th century design and illustration. ‘I’m drawn to that era because there was such excitement after the war, circa the Festival of Britain,’ explains Costin. ‘I’m developing a visual language. It’s very influenced by the modernity and freshness of that time, in particular the illustrator Barbara Jones and her 1951 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition Black Eyes and Lemonade which included everything from pub signs to ship busts.’

Despite being steeped in British history, the Museum project is absolutely concerned with living traditions and design. ‘There has been something like a 25% increase in the re-establishment of traditional festivals in villages, perhaps because in times of crisis people look to cement their community,’ says Simon. ‘The Jack in the Green, where I am starting the tour, was re-established in the 80s, and Maisy Day has started again in Penzance. Each generation reinvents things for relevance – when the Jack in the Green began in the 1700s it was set up by sweeps who were out of work in the summer. They wouldn’t recognise it as it’s performed now. On a practical level it brings the community in Hastings together and brings money into the town.’

The Museum will directly involve contemporary practitioners of folk arts as well as acting as an archive. Costin is commissioning pieces by well dressers from Shropshire – who traditionally clad wooden structures over wells in clay before pressing thousands of spring flower petals into the surface – as well as sending 200 blank dolls out to Morris teams to dress in their team colours. ‘We’re not just buying exhibits,’ explains Costin. ‘These people are just as important as my curatorial input.’

Some of Simon’s references for the actual design of the Museum cross over from what’s been his day job in the world of  fashion. ‘I’ve been thinking about Biba,’ he says, ‘where you entered a total world when you entered the Big Biba store and where the food hall had tins of Biba beans, and the cabinets were fantastic. The museum will be just as decorative as that, but always for a reason. So a cabinet about the Jack in the Green might be covered in leaves – there has to be a dialogue between the display and the item displayed.’

Folk culture and high fashion may make for odd bedfellows, but Costin’s magical universe has space for them both. If any evidence is needed, it’s readily available: in May, Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo will be giving over the windows of Dover Street Market to his Museum project. At the same time, Simon Costin will be painting himself green and donning horns for the first day of the Museum of Folklore Tour in Hastings.