AS Pam Hogg prepares for a Scottish homecoming, the queen of the underground fashion and music worlds talks about the price of staying true to her vision
Pam Hogg wishes there were ten of her. A whole army of feline-featured, yellow-haired, punk princess mini mes to help her tackle a mountain of work. As well as two commissions, there’s a model casting to take care of. Plus she has a new student in the studio and “everything goes wrong if I’m not there”. That’s before you take into consideration her spring/summer 2013 London Fashion Week collection – each piece of which she will painstaking make, by hand, herself. Really, it’s no wonder that, when she was asked to get involved in the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, she said no. “My initial reaction was that I wouldn’t have time since it runs a month before London Fashion Week, and that’s a reclusive period for me,” she says. “I’m normally completely absorbed in making my collection.”
But a meeting with Anna Freemantle, the Dutch model and producer behind the festival, and a vision of the event’s uniquely macabre space at Summerhall, the former Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, convinced the Glasgow-born designer, musician and DJ to think again. “I was sent images of the building and all the rooms,” she says, “and I fell in love with the rawness of the postmortem room, envisaging the whole show. So that hooked me. I could immediately see my birds’ head pieces and clothes hanging from metal hooks and beams, surrounded by blow-ups of amazing photos I’d recently completed with Rankin.”
Her involvement promises to be one of the highlights of a festival that will be unlike any other, turning the traditional fashion week on its skyscraper heels and examining it not as a purely commercial proposition but, instead, as an art form through screenings, concerts, gala parties and workshops. But diehard fashion fans needn’t worry, there will be catwalks too – of a sort. “They offered me full creative control and have been open to every request I’ve made,” says Hogg.
“At first I said I could only do a static exhibition as, when it comes to my work, I’m always totally hands-on and a perfectionist so find it difficult to let go. And I’m not quite sure how this happened, as I specifically said it would be impossible, but now I’m also doing the fashion show.”
The runway will feature pieces from Hogg’s archive of the last three years, while the exhibition will be a kind of fashion as sculpture, surrounded by gritty, sexy images shot by celebrated Scots photographer Rankin. “It was awesome collaborating with him,” says Hogg. “He gave me free rein to do whatever I liked, and he has an amazing team who were totally committed to helping me in my vision. They were reticent at first doing the shoot on the streets, guerilla-style, but my persuasion really paid off as it gave the photos this extra energy. At one point I was standing in the middle of the road in a tunnel, halting traffic to allow us to get the first most difficult shot. It almost caused a jam as the drivers couldn’t take their eyes off my half-naked girls, one wearing only padlock and chains roped up to a Roman pillar.”
There were hints that she might also be doing a DJ set at the after-party, though she says, “That’s news to me.” Shame – that would be one hell of a bash.
A graduate of Glasgow School of Art, where she studied fine art and printed textiles, Hogg’s bold vision stood out from the crowd even in those early days, winning her the Newbury Medal of Distinction, the Frank Warner Memorial Medal, the Leverhulme scholarship and the Royal Society of Arts bursary. Then London beckoned, namely the Royal College of Art in London, where she studied her Master of Art degree.
She was at the epicentre of the post-punk movement in the mid-1980s, and for nearly a decade her signature bodysuits clung to the lithe limbs of Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux, Paula Yates and Marie Helvin. When Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Galleries asked her to host a one-woman exhibition in 1990, it was the first of its kind to be held in the hallowed halls and proved one of its most successful.
But in 1992 she all but disappeared from the fashion stage, focusing instead on her music, supporting Debbie Harry in 1993 and the Raincoats in 1994 with her band Doll (Hogg herself is actually rather subversively doll-like, with that cartoonish mane of Barbie-blonde hair, scarlet lips and smoky eyes).
Back in the fashion spotlight at the start of the millennium, she made her first film, Accelerator, which starred Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Gillespie, with Daryl Hannah and David Soul in cameo roles. She designed the costumes for Siouxsie Sioux’s 2004 world tour and in 2006 contributed to the travelling exhibition Switch on the Power, which also featured Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Leigh Bowery and Kraftwerk.
But for Hogg there is no separation between fashion, music and art; they are one and the same. “It’s all-encompassing for me, they go hand in hand. I’ve always arranged the music for my shows and sometimes a piece of music sets the stage for the collection. I recently sat in for Jarvis Cocker on his BBC Sunday Service [on Radio 6 Music], fusing all my favourite tracks and talking about where and when I’d heard them, or related a cherished moment experiencing a song live. I was really nervous but had an incredible response. People were writing in saying I should have my own show – and, of course, now would love my own show. His friend and collaborator Jason Buckle is who I’ve most recently made music with, and we’re itching to make more as soon as I can find space to breathe.”
And music, of course, is integral to the whole design process. “It depends on the direction the collection is taking,” says Hogg, “When it all starts to unravel I have more sense of the mood and I search for tracks that convey the feeling I wish to create.
“The choice of music is vital to my shows – the collection and the music fuse together. Last season I was working on ideas to do with pioneers out West in search of the American dream, and as soon as my huge bonnets emerged I was suddenly struck with this track that I’d heard of a mountain lady and banjos. In my search for that sound I realised that Cajun music and Ry Cooder and David Lynch all fitted the bill.”
Last year she made headlines when her runway show moved from London to Paris. She said at the time she was disappointed not to be in London, but it was a decision based on simple economics. “I love showing in London, but was offered a show in Paris and was ecstatic about it as it was my dream to show there one day,” she says now. “It was incredible and Vivienne Westwood came, which was such an honour. She said she came as a friend to support me, and I was really touched as I know she rarely, if ever, goes to someone else’s show. That kind of support is worth it all.
“But financial backing still eludes me,” she adds, “so I have to go where the goodwill is. I unfortunately can’t choose where I show each season but I’m lucky enough to be given a space by people like Vauxhall Fashion Scout and On/Off, who admire my work and don’t want to see me give up. These shows, however, have been off-schedule, which makes it difficult for potential customers and backers to view my work.”
Back in London for the last two seasons, she says it would feel like a homecoming, but for her continued lack of recognition from the British Fashion Council. “Allowing me a better opportunity to be seen by the people in the industry could help me build a business, but they say I can’t be on the schedule as I don’t have enough selling outlets, so it’s catch 22.”
Indeed, the British fashion industry – while she hopes it is “still perceived to be at the top when it comes to innovation and creativity” – has changed dramatically, and for the worse, for young designers. “I feel it was a lot easier for small companies in the 1980s as you could buy home produce. But the mills have gone and it’s increasingly difficult to source the fabrics you need in this country. It’s now rare that a shop will put 50 per cent up front for you to be able to put your garments into production, so selling your product is harder if you don’t have the capital.”
Undaunted, Hogg is still personally involved in making every piece on the catwalk. “I need to see it emerge rather than have someone draft out my idea to be made up,” she explains. “Working physically with each garment allows me freedom to change route. I design in my head so there’s no other way at the moment than to be sitting at the machine sewing them myself or with the help of a student.”
But it’s not ideal. “I’d like to use my time more wisely and have a pattern-cutter and seamstress to allow more time for designing.
“Everyone says how great it is that I haven’t sold out, but I’m totally in favour of my clothes being accessible in a more commercial format, as long as they retain the spirit in which the original was designed. I had a shop for years. It wasn’t mass-production but I’m waiting for the chance to be able to expand. I’d like to reach my potential and will need to create some kind of revenue to be able to do that.”
Despite this obvious desire for commercial success, however, she refuses to conform to the fashion norm. “All I’m doing is being myself. I have no desire to be or dress or act like anyone other than myself. We all have one gift and that’s our individuality, but it seems that everyone wants to be like someone else.”
That someone else right now might be a certain princess with a penchant for Zara. Hogg recently made the headlines when she spoke out about the effect on fashion of the new Duchess of Cambridge, calling those who want to imitate her “sheep”. “Ah, the Middleton effect,” she sighs.
“I had just entered the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London to support a good cause and was immediately approached by a young reporter, asking about the Middleton effect. It seemed so odd to me that in such a space where free thinking flourishes that this was her utmost important question. I didn’t really have anything to say about it as sheep-like fashion holds no importance for me, but when it came out in print it sounded like I was having a go.
“Kate has a role to play, as did Diana, who I met and loved, and it’s not an easy role with the spotlight glaring on you. I just find this constant celebrity copying so unchallenging. British fashion is far greater than the mass-production of cheap copies of a princess’s wardrobe. All through time we’ve wanted to dress like our idols, and it can bring people together through identification, but this situation loses thinking for oneself. You can create an individual look with the elements that you feel attracted to, without buying a direct copy, and still retain your own identity.”
Fashion, she says, becomes diluted by and for the masses. “It’s the illusion and disillusion, the wannabe celebrity of today, so there’s saturation point and it becomes dull. It’s the same in the music industry. Everything starts sounding the same, as everybody wants to look or sound like everyone else, and money people go for the common denominator or safe ground.
“What we need are people with money to invest well and see the bigger picture. Like good music and art, fashion can be an exhilarating part of our lives, but it can also become commonplace and dull if the talented go unrecognised.”
Anyone who wears Hogg Couture would be unlikely to disappear – it is not designed with the shrinking violet in mind, and current fans range from Rihanna and Lady Gaga to Kylie and Kate Moss. Her catwalk models are the girls with attitude, rock chicks like Daisy Lowe, Jaime Winstone, Alice Dellal and Liberty Ross. And when she received a lifetime achievement award from the Scottish Fashion Council in 2009, Debbie Harry paid tribute from New York City.
Yet this most brave and bold of designers still remains below the fashion radar. Has that been a conscious decision? “I don’t think you decide to stay below the radar, it’s in your nature what you do. You either conform to what you think people want and go for the obvious and make some cash, or you go on a discovery mission deep within yourself and create things that perhaps only a few will get.”
Eventually, ideas may get picked up by the mainstream, but by then it’s too late. “Inevitably it’s so far down the line for the innovators, who fall by the wayside as they’re not able to capitalise on it at the time. My work will always dictate an underground element as I will forever be true to my beliefs,” she says. “However, I hope that in the not too distant future I’ll have outlets to allow the purchase of both my catwalk pieces and a more wearable collection for the people who would like to feel the connection, even if it’s just a hint of it.”
In the meantime, her real homecoming will be to Scotland in a couple of weeks. “I don’t know a Scot living outside of Scotland who doesn’t still feel a connection to it,” she says. “I love being a Scot. It will always be my home in my heart.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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