Interview: Pam Hogg

Pam Hogg has designed for everyone from Rihanna and Kylie to Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. She tells Janet Christie about her latest project, creating the costumes for the National Theatre of Scotland's co-production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Artist and designer Pam Hogg Picture: Jamie Morgan at Serlin Associates
Artist and designer Pam Hogg Picture: Jamie Morgan at Serlin Associates

Pam Hogg, fashion designer, artist, singer, filmmaker and as it turns out, born romantic, sits in a hotel in her hometown of Glasgow, musing on love as she talks about her costume designs for National Theatre of Scotland’s production of one of the greatest love stories of all, Cyrano de Bergerac.

“I’m a total romantic and when I heard it was Cyrano they wanted me to do, I was like ‘wow, this is incredible because it’s a love story, like Romeo and Juliet, but with an extra dimension’. Oh I love it, absolutely love it! I may not look like it, but I’m a total romantic.”

Perched on a designer chair in Bluebird adidas tracksuit, pointy silver kick boots and an orange beret criss-crossed with silver studs hugging a shock of blonde hair, 5ft 10in and whippet thin, she could in fact pass as a romantic, albeit a bold and fierce one. A paradoxical blend of fragility and strength, as she talks about her passions: art, music, film, clothes, it becomes obvious why the National Theatre chose her to design the costumes for the Caledonian makeover of the French classic.

Jessica Hardwick wearing a Pam Hogg design for National Theatre of Scotland's Cyrano de Bergerac Photograph: Julie Howden

If she wears her heart on her sleeve, her principles are on her wrists, tattoos in black capitals, declare Honour on the left, above a crucifix that stretches down to her knuckles, and Justice on the right. Devoid of her trademark dramatic eye make-up, her pale eyes are all the more striking; clear and open, like Hogg herself today. She may be known for her bold and courageous designs, yet in person she’s gentle and warm, loquacious with a ready laugh.

“I believe in love,” she says. “All of my relationships have been love at first sight, across a crowded room. But when I fall for someone I can’t look at them. If it’s just a wee bit of fun I’m ‘come here you now!’, but when I really fall for someone it’s head down, really, really shy.

“My last boyfriend I saw across a crowded room and knew he was going to be mine. But I was so shy and he was even more shy, and when we spoke he blushed. A blush! That was so beautiful, the real thing. Then I saw him again at a gig and I was thinking my God, my God, will he speak and he did and I was trying to be nonchalant... But I’m digressing, sorry...”

Hogg is a great storyteller, and immediately segues into another tale about another boyfriend she had first seen across a crowded room then met again at a bar after a friend’s funeral, “...within seconds we were rolling around on the floor under the table, my dear friend would have loved that!” she laughs.

Pam Hogg receives her honorary doctorates of letters from Glasgow School of Art in 2016

Given that this is Cyrano, where the self-doubting hero writes love letters to win Roxanne’s heart for the handsome Christian, has she ever wooed or been wooed with the written word?

“Oh I die to read love…” she says, and pauses, gazes out over the Glasgow street for the longest time, then says, “It’s like, will I ever love again?… because I hope, I hope there’s going to be another love in my life, and that person I want to be…” She tails off unsure, then comes back fierce, “I’m thirsty for knowledge about the world, so someone who could give me that, a wordsmith, I would just die.

“I had love letters, but I destroyed them, oh my God and I wish I hadn’t, but I had to move house in two days and couldn’t take it all with me.”

She smacks her hand to her heart…

Pam Hogg flanked by models Alice Dellal and Fearne Cotton on the runway after her London Fashion Week show, February 2017. Picture: Eamonn M McCormack/Getty Images

“I was gobsmacked when I found them again and read them, what that person was writing to me was glorious, and I hadn’t given them enough time, because they weren’t the right one. But they had written the most beautiful words imaginable.”

If she loves a romance, she’s also keen on comedy, which is how she first came across Cyrano. “Steve Martin’s Roxanne was the first time most of us saw it, wasn’t it?” she says, pleased that the National Theatre of Scotland’s Edwin Morgan Glaswegian-Scots translation has laughs in it too, along with the love, war and noses.

“It’s got everything; it’s funny, it’s sad, it has every emotion and it’s a play for everyone,” she says.

Charged with giving the French romance a Caledonian makeover and on a flying visit up from London to fit the cast with her designs, she’s full of praise for the show directed by Citizens’ Theatre Artistic Director Dominic Hill. Touring Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, the 14-strong ensemble cast with Brian Ferguson in the lead, also includes Nalini Chetty and Gabriel Quigley.

“It’s marvellous… and that’s without the costumes, without the set, without the lighting. It’s absolutely incredible. When I saw the rehearsal I was blown away. Because it’s Glaswegian slang, a lot of them down south are [she ramps up the accent softened by decades in London] no’ gonnae get it.

“But it doesn’t matter, because the visuals and actors are incredible. I can’t tell a lie, what you see is what you get with me, so if I wasn’t able to say it’s glorious, I wouldn’t be able to do this interview.” She laughs.

Honesty is a useful characteristic in the fickle world of fashion, where Hogg’s designs have been in demand ever since her first collection in 1981, achieving cult status in particular among those who hate to follow the herd. She’s well placed to discuss the misleading nature of appearance and superficiality in a world of stylists and photoshopping.

“I hate fashion with a vengeance,” she says. “How dare people tell other people what to wear. Ahhhh! You can’t. When I’m teaching I say to people ‘your greatest gift is your individuality, why would you want to look like someone else? Find what is really you and build on that, you are this one person and that is glorious.’

“Clothes are a guide but there are so many stylists out there that are putting their vision onto someone so appearance is one thing, but you have to look deeper. It’s how someone holds themselves, how they deliver, what they’re saying. I’m fraction of a second. I see someone and it’s not just about what they’re wearing. I see every little nuance, the way someone will look at you, the way they will not look at you. I can sift it out, when there’s a real person there and someone who is a pretend person.”

Hogg has always had her pointy toed boots in more than one camp, art and music as much as fashion and even while at art school was already moving between those worlds. She never reveals her age, but started her first band, Rubbish, which often supported the Pogues, at the end of the 1970s. Along with her fashion contemporaries John Galliano, Body Map, Leigh Bowery and Vivienne Westwood, she was one of the new wave of punk and post-punk designers who exploded from the incendiary fusion of fine art, music and the club scene of that era.

Singers like Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry, Björk, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna, all appreciate her bold, body hugging styles, “and you can add a lot more names to that list,” she says, while the world of fashion can’t get enough of her, from Kate Moss to Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer.

“Lots of people ask but they don’t understand that I make one-off garments, I’m not Burberry, so they ask me to send say 24 selections, Beyoncé’s people did that. They don’t understand, this is my archive, there’s just one piece and if it’s lost, it’s gone forever. But I’d love to dress Beyoncé, there are loads of great people I’d love to dress.”

Transferring from fashion to theatre and Cyrano de Bergerac could have been difficult but Hogg never saw it like that.

“My work is theatre,” she simply says.

“The director Dominic Hill works in the same way as me: he’s fluid, nothing is absolute, and I know about that. When we first met I showed him some of my creations from my archives on my phone and he’s ‘love it, love it’ so I knew it would be OK.

“First of all, I thought about the costume for Rox, I just thought shapes and chose things from my catwalk, and from way back. I’ve brought up stuff from my archive, huge underskirts that took me months to make, pieces to copy, some to take bits from and show them how to make them. A lot of it I think ‘how did I make that?’, because so much is intuitive, so I have to go back and recapture that moment.”

Hogg has worked to capture the romance of the story without allowing the designs to become twee.

“My work is actually romantic,” she says. “whether it looks it or not. The underlying belly of it is passion that comes from a joy of bringing together all of my loves. That’s why I can create. I capture these loves in a fragment, fragments that float around my brain, and I don’t know what they are, tiny touches of things.”

“I don’t even see myself as a fashion designer, I create, I’m a creator…”

Hogg’s clothes have always been in demand, from the clubs to the catwalks to museums, and pushed to name a signature look or style she goes for the catsuit.

“That is the big one because it was there right from the start, and still is. When I started at art school I did fine art and was actually drawing on my body. I thought this is like a catsuit, so I made simple catsuits, then developed it. Now there are sometimes hundreds of pieces to them; in fact nobody wants to produce them because there are so many pieces, so I do it myself.”

A wedding dress she designed for model, DJ and musician Lady Mary Charteris was a case in point, with cascading frills and endless pieces to sew.

“That dress was insanity. The most difficult, complicated thing I have ever had to do, waves of frills to look like shells and moving waves. I had to colour code each section to know where the hell I was. But it worked!”

Hogg was always artistic as a child, forever drawing and customising clothes for her dolls and her friends’ dolls even before she was allowed a needle and thread. She also started making her own clothes from the hand-me downs that came from next door.

“I always knew what I wanted to wear and because there were four of us – I’m the second youngest – I used to take these hand me downs and customise them. So I was forging my identity already.

A dad who was in the RAF then a gardener and a mother who was a telephonist then full time mother, they were Spiritualists and open thinkers who allowed their children to go their own way.

“I could do what I wanted, but not be rowdy, because by God I saw the back of mother’s hand many a time. And you’ve got to have discipline!” she says, “Let children jump around, but respect other people’s places when you go into them... and manners. We were grounded, given the basics,” she says.

After school Hogg studied fine art and printed textiles at Glasgow School of Art (which awarded her an honorary degree in 2016) then at the Royal College of Art in London, picking up prizes along the way. Today, as she looks up the hill towards where the charred shell of the art school rests, waiting, she looks bereft.

“I couldn’t even go up the hill and look at it when I got here,” she says. “I’d love to help. That building is a gift,” she says, remembering her first day at art school.

“I walked up the stairs to the door and there was one blue stained glass and one red and that was the start of the surprises; it was full of them! It was the most glorious building I had set foot in in my entire life, I was mesmerised. It was everything, “ she says, “and I thought ‘my life is going to change forever.’”

Hogg never seems to stop. As well as designing the costumes for Cyrano, the day after we talk she’s directing a film for Another magazine, and has her book – handwritten because it was started 20 years ago – to finish.There’s also her collection for London Fashion Week in a fortnight (20-23 September), where her frow regulars include Nick Cave, Bobby Gillespie, Siouxsie Sioux, Jaime Winstone and Alison Mosshart.

Does she have a team beavering away back in London as we speak?

“You’re joking! It’s just me and a couple of students. I have to just get on and do it – no sleep till Brooklyn!” She smiles. She loves it.

“After every collection I’m absolutely broken, saying ‘that’s it! I’m never doing another’, then within days I can’t wait to do the next. All the little I ideas I didn’t get in start wanting to come out so each one inspires the next.”

Hogg couldn’t stop even if she wanted to. Today gazing out at Glasgow she’s been mesmerised by a woman with hair down to the back of her knees, while the bright neon yellow button on my dictaphone was also ‘singing’ to her, inspiration everywhere she looks.

“My eye just catches things,” she says. “They touch me, and it’s the essence of that, that is the joy of it. So many things speak to you, and I haven’t got enough time to do them all, it kills me!”

Cyrano de Bergerac, Tramway, Glasgow, today to 22 September; Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 12 October-3 November; Eden Court, Inverness, 7-10 November. For more information, see