By  on September 26, 2008

PARIS — Garbage bag coats, safety-pin dresses and a stole crafted from red-eyed white mink mice are just some of the outré handiwork dished up by underground British designer Gareth Pugh during his past five seasons spent storming the runways at London Fashion Week. Shifting gears, Saturday will mark the avant-garde 27-year-old’s grand Paris debut, a move financed by the 200,000 euro ($294,000 at current exchange) in prize-money awarded to him this June as winner of the city’s Andam Award. In July, Pugh, who is distributed in 22 doors internationally, including Barneys New York and Colette in Paris, established his company, Hard and Shiny, with Michelle Lamy, who owns 49 percent of the business. Pugh’s collection is mainly produced by the same factory as Rick Owens, who is married to Lamy, based in Concordia, Italy. Here, Pugh sits down with a cup of tea and a cigarette to discuss his outlook.

WWD: You’ve come from Sunderland, in northeast England, to Paris. How does it feel?

Gareth Pugh: Really nerve-racking. I was fine before I got here but now it’s really starting to dawn on me how big it is. In London, a lot of your designer peers are your friends. Here it’s a different ball game.

WWD: What does Paris have to offer that London doesn’t?

G.P.: Here I get to power my business forward. It seems that London is never a destination, but more of an afterthought, so a lot of my buyers don’t get to see my shows. In London you also get stuck with certain labels. Paris sets a different tone, it feels like I’m stepping up a gear.

WWD:
The Andam prize enabled you to show here this season. Are fashion prizes helpful in the long run?

G.P.: “If the prize didn’t exist, I would still be showing in London. Everything has a risk to it, but I think it’s necessary to give yourself a good kick up the ass. I’m not saying London was easy, but it was comfortable, familiar territory. It’s nice to have a new challenge. I like to compare it to getting off the merry-go-round and climbing onto a roller-coaster.

WWD: What’s the difference between what we see on the catwalk and what ends up on the shop floor?

G.P.: This season, the sales collections will form a big part of the catwalk show, what you see is what you get. It’s expensive for a factory to produce a whole new line, and we’ve had to push them to make things as a lot of the pieces are labor-intensive. I’ve been going over there every weekend and I’m happy with the results. Nine of the show pieces are very “me” outfits, featuring lots of handiwork, that will be sold by special order.

WWD: Any collaborations for spring?

G.P.:
Yes, Judy Blame is working on some light, airy jewelry pieces and I’ll also be using some hand-made glove designs by Simon Azoulay.

WWD: Any new categories?

G.P.: Yes, I’ll be commercializing my first shoe this season.

WWD: Is London, and its scene, very much a part of your identity?

G.P.: “I’ve come up with a lot of people. I went to [Central Saint Martin’s] with Christopher Kane, I’ve known Henry Holland since back when he was a fashion editor at Smash Hits [a British music magazine for teens], and now suddenly we’re all known. It’s not one person that creates all of the hype. I think it’s terrible that they’re shortening London Fashion Week just as it’s taking off. It really deserves more recognition.

WWD: Is it important for an emerging designer to do a catwalk show?

G.P.: For me it’s really important as it’s the essence of what I do. It’s like selling a perfume; we have to sell the dream before we can sell the clothes. Having said that, I had sponsoring for all of my London shows, and I plan to make the Andam money stretch over two shows, even if it’s supposed to go on one. I could have done seven London shows out of that prize. You have to be clever with what you do as I’m well aware that people can be interested today and tomorrow be, “who’s Gareth Pugh?” Andy Warhol would always complain about taxi fares when he was a millionaire. I think it’s good to have business sense. It’s not like I’m going to spend my dad’s yearly income on hiring one model.”

WWD:
Why have you chosen to show at the Palais de Tokyo?

G.P.: We wanted to show somewhere quite tight but not teeny-tiny and off the beaten track. I quite liked the idea of having my girls stomping round a really classic French salon, but maybe we’ll leave that for next season.”

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