It’s no secret that I’m into football. Specifically, Arsenal. I’m not into it to keep the boyfriend happy because he is also a hardcore football fan, but I’m into it because it’s a this perfect counterfoil to what I do in fashion. It’s where you can immerse yourself in a tribe-based culture that is ardent, addictive and without a doubt, more passionate than even the most rabid of fashion fervour. You go to matches. You scream. You swear. You cry. Your emotional journey can oscillate from ecstatic jubilation to gut-wrenching disappointment within a ninety minute time frame. And then that’s extended as you follow your team through the season, enduring and enjoying the highs and the lows. Fashion of course has those highs and lows but the instances where it produces as extreme or visceral a reaction as seen at a football match, are alas, few and far between.
To illustrate my footie meets fashion love-in, yesterday I was in red and white as of course any self-respecting Gooner should be, augmented with a touch of pink thanks to Simone Rocha’s delicious S/S 15 frock. The scarf wasn’t worn just for warmth. Arsenal were playing (we won 2:1 if anybody cares to know).
Why all the footie talk? Gareth Pugh’s grandiose epic of a homecoming last night held in the V&A’s Raphael Room had chants from his hometown Sunderland Football Club. Distorted and warped by Pugh’s longtime sound collaborator Matthew Stone, it could have been any football club chant. In my head, it went like this: “And it’s Arsenal. Arsenal FC. Are by far the greatest team. The world has ever seen.”
It was but one reference in Pugh’s poignant and powerful collection. The central protagonist was a Britannia-esque warrior anointed with a blood red St George’s Cross, ready to do battle. Fervour. Incidentally, at the top of the catwalk behind the LED screen where Ruth Hogben’s accompanying film played out, there’s an altarpiece of St George, depicting him slaying the dragon and his martyrdom. St George. Sacrificing yourself for your country. Fervent nationalism. Football culture. All of these things fed into a collection that revisited Pugh’s volumes in black but they felt even more annunciated in this room especially when models wore leather breastplates, furry helmets and spiked out textures made entirely out of black straws in reference to a dragon’s scales. That was also a nod to Pugh’s DIY couture past and the very beginnings of his career in London. I remember standing eagerly at those shows with my heart palpitating as each look came out. Here it was much the same but instead of rowdy club kids cheering, it was the formidable fashion establishment witnessing an elevated incarnation of Pugh.
Probe deeper and you wind up asking yourself what Pugh was trying to say about those aforementioned references. Pugh was adamant that it wasn’t about being needlessly aggressive. There was a darkness of course, especially when one thinks about what those red crosses would mean to say, the English Defence League or extreme Ing-gur-lund football hooligans. It felt more like an cultural fascination on Pugh’s part. He was probing without criticising. He was tapping into the alchemy of what happens when a group of people get together and get roused and riled up to fight and chant for your “team” be it country or club.
Who knew that years of frequenting Arsenal matches (I used to waitress at the old Highbury ground) would help me understand a Gareth Pugh show?
With thanks to Mercedes-Benz for providing transportation