Gareth Pugh spring 2017 – text by Eilidh Nuala Duffy

Dear Shaded Viewers & Diane,

Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabalo was not premiered until after the composers death. Perhaps it was Cavalli’s ageing style or, a little more likely, the racy subject matter was a little too much for a late 1600s Venetian audience. The story of a teenage emperor who indulged in transvestism, or as Pugh describes him: “an agent of chaos, a crowned anarchist, emerging in a climate of greed & narcissism”, may not have gone down so well for such a conservative audience.

Consequently the story was forgotten about until 1999. On the 16th of September, 24 hours before Gareth Pugh’s show in London, another staging of the opera opened in the Palais Garnier in Paris. Pugh had designed over 60 costumes for them, as well as working on his own collection. It is no wonder that the collection felt so closely knit to this particular story.

Golden mosaic depicting the pointed arrows of the chaos symbol were embedded on to sculptural scoop necks & provided edging for cuffs & hems. The symbol of the sun was omnipresent, the power of which became the focus of the show as bursts of purple (taken from Francis Bacon’s Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, in which he depicts “insatiable hunger & consumption”) oozed into the sunburst motif, a symbol of fertility & renewal; an inkling of hope in a darkening world.

Pugh says of Eliogabalo, “It’s essentially about an empire eating itself – which felt alarmingly relevant”. Two days in & the subject of Brexit (or perhaps just the state of the world itself) has been broached. Outside the show, animal rights protesters heckled from below, filling us with a gritty feeling of guilt. The whole experience was doused in questions of power: who, on that night, were the ones who held it?



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