LONDON, United Kingdom — It's been twelve months since Gareth Pugh made his return to London Fashion Week, setting the V&A alight with his gothic, Britannia-tinged show that referenced everything from St. George to, well, football. He chose the equally grandiose salle of a stonemason's hall for this season's provocative affair and enlisted the Paris Opera Ballet’s prima ballerina Marie-Agnès Gillot to open the show as his mistress of ceremonies, striding across the harlequin carpet to take up a gilded throne, flanked by two men in suits. Hers was black, cut narrow and flared, and emblazoned with an officer’s brass buttons that matched her briefcase and aviator shades.
Gillot's presence as something of an overlord set the stage for the designer’s latest power play for female domination, a theme he has visited time and again with varying degrees of humour and romance. This time around, some of the romance was missing from the parade: an unforgiving onslaught of tailored suits, skinny outerwear and cocktail dresses in fabrics like camelhair, Prince of Wales-checked wool and shearling matched with cerulean satin.
Among his muses, Pugh focused on Jessica Chastain's character Anna Morales in A Most Violent Year, the NYC gangland film set in the winter of 1981. She wasn't afraid of a belted robe coat or a pointy pump, and neither was Pugh, who employed a particularly squeamish shade of tan leather (he called it ‘sick’ backstage) to cut a pencil skirt, an opera glove and the kind of fetish mask that terrified Hannibal Lecter’s ladies in Silence of the Lambs all those years ago.
The fact that she was wearing the mask — and, for that matter, the pants — quelled none of the tension and the confusion that this collection built. From the star-studded blue pant suits (they echoed Manfred Mugler’s dated work) to the awkward shearling sleeves of a stretch leather sheath, it was a hard sell for modern power dressing, as Pugh knowingly twisted his theme down the rocky road of caricature. Those who know the designer well may take pleasure in this exercise, others may miss the darker glamour upon which he built his name.