Val Garland and Gareth Pugh’s Fetishistic Veils

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Photography by Gareth Powell

The make-up artist captures the flamboyance and abandon of 1980s Soho in a nicotine-stained stocking

“In the Eighties, the whole point of going out was getting dressed up,” remembers Val Garland of her clubbing heyday in London’s Soho. “It didn’t matter if people thought you looked shocking, or ugly, as long as they asked, ‘Who’s that girl?’ Plus, the more outrageous you looked, the better chance you had of getting in; nobody wanted the people inside to look like they’d just wandered in off the street.”

The haunts that Garland frequented – clubs such as Fred’s and Kinky Gerlinky – are the vestiges of a bygone era; The Wag club (Garland’s favourite, attended by the likes of John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier) is now an O’Neill’s pub and Maximus (where Leigh Bowery started legendary night, Taboo) is a Häagen-Dazs café. These venues were once home to the subcultures that Gareth Pugh played tribute to in his S/S16 collection – arenas of debauchery where new identities could be forged by night and forgotten by morning. They are places that have been swiftly demolished by the recent gentrification of the area, which has seen the tantalisingly seedy side of Soho – and the abundant creativity it inspired – banished to memory.

“The crux of why I love fashion is the possibility for transformation that it represents,” explains Pugh, who spent his formative years in London studying at Central Saint Martins – then based on the Charing Cross Road – with its library located above a strip club. “You don’t see a lot of that old-school drama anymore, so, this season, I wanted to bring a bit of that back to the area, and push things to an extreme.” Staging his show on a Saturday night at the Brewer Street car park, where he sent latex-clad creatures down a runway littered with glittering one-penny pieces, his collection was a determined revival of Soho’s theatrics; an aesthetic only emphasised by the creations of Val Garland.

Garland’s “nicotine-stained” stockings, painstakingly stamped with red and blue cosmetics, transformed models into otherworldly combinations of Donna Summer and Lindsay Kemp: bizarrely beautiful aliens tinged with red-lit fetishism. “It was all about theatre, about becoming your alter ego,” Garland explains. “Once they put on the stockings, the girls became these plastic mannequins. We wanted to capture that Blade Runner sense of futurism, and a Studio 54 atmosphere, but push it away from New York disco into something very British. It’s what Soho was about back then: you didn’t have to belong to just one tribe, every night you could have a different head on.”