Few designers are such kindred spirits as Claude Montana and Gareth Pugh: the former, the rockstar of eighties fashion; the latter, the anarchic spirit of London subculture; both united by their love for razor-sharp tailoring and an architectural silhouette. So, there was little question in the mind of Byronesque founder Gill Linton that, if someone were to oversee the re-issue she was organising of Montana’s original work, it ought be Pugh. “The attention to detail, cut and craftsmanship that went into creating Montana’s collections was meticulous and couture-like – and when you think of pioneering and meticulous cut and craft, (and let’s not forget dramatic strong silhouettes), Gareth is an obvious choice,” explains Linton. “I knew there wasn’t anyone else we wanted to work with. Luckily, he said yes.”
Her invitation fortuitously coincided with Pugh’s decision not to show a new collection for the first time in 13 years, choosing instead to focus on projects outside the rigorous confines of the fashion cycle. “I’ve made it no secret that I’m interested in a world of things that lie outside the natural remit of a fashion designer; being part of the wider cultural conversation has always been at the heart of how we roll,” he says. “And the time felt right to assert more control over my creative output, and diversify the end result of some of our work – fashion, creative direction, stage design, film – whatever it might be that gets us up in the morning. The Montana project is just part of this new way of working.”
Launching today on Farfetch, the 11-piece collection that embodies Pugh’s newfound freedom reprises some of Montana’s most iconic pieces and has used even the same manufacturers as the originals: the leather dress embroidered with an eagle, originally from 1979, has been re-made using one of only two remaining machines of its kind, guided by the same women who were around the first time. “It’s an epic piece!” reflects Pugh. “The time we spent trying to get the embroidery just right was well worth it.”
The assembly of the capsule has been a labour of love – the house of Montana has not maintained a particularly extensive archive, and so much of Pugh’s research has revolved around studying old fashion show videos and editorial shoots to reconstruct the garments as they originally were. Equally, as Linton reflects, “While the collection is an exact reissue of past Montana designs, this isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. It is very important that the brand and the collection is honoured in a very contemporary way.”
Here, Pugh outlines what it is that makes Montana appeal to him so particularly, and how the process of re-assembling his work has operated. And stay tuned: while Pugh might not be showing this season, he’s got plenty in the pipeline (not least including a Queer Fantasia commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and a new venture with Virgin). But, in his truly dramatic style, he says “If I told you now, I would have to kill you.” See, kindred spirits indeed.
What appeals to you about Claude Montana as a designer?
I’ve always been drawn to Montana: his work challenged convention and managed to equate power and seduction. I feel he never fetishised women, he celebrated them, and that is key – especially today.
How does his aesthetic resonate with your own?
There is a strong sense of discipline in Montana’s work – he was a renowned perfectionist, and the razor-sharp tailoring, impeccable styling and sense of drama are all things that resonate with me and my own work. It’s also interesting to note that Montana started as a costume designer, as did I, and you can see how that sense of drama permeates his aesthetic. Obviously the structure and volume, and the almost architectural rigour of his work is something I really appreciate.
How much of the collection is a direct re-issue of his work, and how much is of your design? Have you directly reconstructed the archive pieces?
The collection is predominately made up of archive, but we were only lucky enough to find a couple of physical samples – and only one that we were able to copy directly. The House of Montana sadly doesn’t hold an extensive archive of their previous styles, so it was painstaking work studying old fashion show videos and pictures as well as editorial shoots from magazines of the time in order to reconstruct everything as it once was. It was a real labour of love.
What makes Montana feel relevant for today?
The legacy of Montana is one of aspiration and dreaming. His shows were always a theatrical presentation – I’ve even heard them described as ‘high mass’. I’m naturally drawn to fashion that serves as a counterpoint to reality, something that is aspirational, or offers fantasy and escape. It is something I think we all need a little of in the world in which we live today: the power of dreaming.