The work of English fashion designer Gareth Pugh has always had a theatrical sensibility. Take his famous inflatable one-piece from 2006, for example, which turned children's pool floaties into arm candy, or the Fall 2014 dress featuring a wind-up doll apparatus on the back.
In fact, Pugh began his career in costume design as a teenager for the National Youth Theatre, eventually interning for Rick Owens. He made his solo runway debut in 2006, but has also had a successful career designing for artists like Lady Gaga, Róisín Murphy, and Beyoncé, as well as for the ballet Carbon Life, which opened at the Royal Opera House in 2012, and the opera Eliogabalo, which opened at the Palais Garnier in Paris in 2016.
This year, Pugh is taking on yet another theatrical challenge by designing the costumes for the opera Antigona, which opens Saturday at the Documenta Art Fair. The Austrian theater director Stephan Mueller asked Turner-Prize-nominated artist Goshka Macuga to collaborate on a sci-fi reinterpretation of the classic work, which includes singers on Segways and opens with a parody of the Star Wars scroll text.
In keeping with this theme, Pugh not only designed costumes fit for a sci-fi king and queen, but also decided to present the pieces in a 360-degree digital format with the London-based digital arts company, Werkflow, which claims this to be an industry-first of its kind.
"It breaks my heart when people say how important Instagram is to their design work," said Pugh of the impetus behind this digital undertaking. "Designers are now approaching design in a very 2D form, but that’s the world we live in—the majority of people seeing your work are seeing it on a screen or a phone. With this project, we’re trying to break this archaic system of conveying fashion images. There needs to be some sort of movement.”
With the interactive preview, viewers are taken through the four different 'acts' of Antigona and the resulting costume manipulations. The pieces are inspired by Pugh's Spring 2012 exoskeleton looks, which he's adapted to fit both the characters' narratives as well as the practical needs of opera singers, like having their ears and mouths exposed, which is actually not something he considers for his runway collections.
“It’s armor-like, but also like a prison or cage,” said Pugh of the pieces. He was inspired more by the clean lines of Japanese fantasy and less by Steam Punks, keeping in mind that silhouettes were the most important signifier for viewers, most of whom are very far from the stage.
“In the end, we actually just wanted it to be really approachable,” said Pugh, which is not something you would necessarily expect to hear coming out of the designer's mouth. But with a little help from technology, he's found a way to communicate in a way that makes sense for everyone.
And with that, click here to see Gareth Pugh's costumes in their full glory.