“[Turner Prize nominee Goshka Macuga] came through with an idea that sounded too good to turn down, basically trying to reframe the story of Antigona but setting it in outer space, in the future,” says designer Gareth Pugh about his latest project, a futuristic adaptation of Tommaso Traetta’s 1772 Baroque opera Antigona (explore the work here).

Translating Macuga’s vision, Pugh set to work creating costumes befitting the innovative aesthetic. Cue armour-like outfits that reimagine baroque grandeur with sci-fi credentials.

Having created armour-like designs for each character, Pugh wanted to further push boundaries by presenting his new work in a digital setting, cue the help of London-based digital arts studio, Werkflow. Divided into four interactive acts, an immersive experience allows the viewer to manipulate and explore the striking structural beauty of each costume.

The visually arresting virtual interactive project is certainly at the vanguard of costume design, as it empowers the viewer to become closely acquainted to the intricate details of the pieces. Here, Pugh talks us through the processes behind this bold project. 

Gareh Pugh / Werkflow 'Antigona'

Aïsha Diomandé: What initially attracted you to designing the costumes for Antigona?
Gareth Pugh: Well, I did my first opera this time last year, it premiered at the [Palace] Garnier in September, twenty four hours before my show during London Fashion Week, which is quite an experience! I’d worked on ballets before with the choreographer Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera House, so I was familiar working with ateliers in different kinds of places. But basically for this one it all thanks to Goshka Macuga, who approached me — I think she got in touch via a mutual friend, Matthew Stone who she knows and who does the music for my shows. She came through with an idea that sounded too good to turn down, basically trying to reframe the story of Antigona but setting it in outer space, in the future. I’d never met Goshka before and she’s a fun, formidable kind of woman, so she’s not the kind of woman you say no to really [laughs].

Aïsha: What was the process of thinking during the development of the project?
Gareth: Well, Goshka came to me quite late on in the whole the process. Goshka is doing visual direction for the stage opera and she’s working with a stage director and I think that they’d been speaking together for quite a while before Goshka approached me. So basically she came to me with the idea of it being set in outer space and came up with the idea of various different characters using moving devices to go around the stage, whether it be like stage tricks or stage lifts. Luckily the cast that we’re working with at the opera are super young and up for pushing things to the extreme. Goshka came to me with quite defined ideas about how she wanted things to be, with regards to how each character should be represented, so I guess my job was to translate that into a language that works well on stage, and that translated through to the audience so that people understand what they’re watching.

“I think that we can be accused of being slightly lazy or over-saturated with images. I feel that sometimes, everybody feels like they are drowning, and images have a different sort of currency now.”

Gareh Pugh / Werkflow 'Antigona'

Aïsha:  I had the chance to see the futuristic 3D visualisations of the costumes you made with Werkflow. Why do you think the interplay between art and technology is important in terms of presenting new collections?
Gareth: Basically Werkflow came to me. I’m based at Somerset House Studios and they moved in not so long ago a couple of doors down, so they’re kind of my neighbours, but I had never really met them before, they’re quite shy [laughs]. They came to me after my last show, with the idea of trying to do an editorial based on what we had just done during fashion week — but I get bored quite easily, so it didn’t really fill me with joy… But then this opera project was on the backburner, and like I’d said, Goshka came to me quite late on. So basically, when Werkflow came to me I just starting to work on this project… because it is Antigona, and because it’s linked to Documenta and Goshka and set in outer space, I just thought that their approach fitted so well with the whole concept – the idea of presenting things in a digital way, where you can interact with it. You know, it’s an interesting thing when you think about the idea of how people consume fashion imagery, I think that there are so many visuals out there right now.

Aïsha: Absolutely, it can be quite overwhelming.
Gareth: I think that we can be accused of being slightly lazy or over-saturated with images. I feel that sometimes, everybody feels like they are drowning, and images have a different sort of currency now. I think what Werkflow offers is the opportunity for people to engage with images again, and engage with images in a different way. The functionalities that it has, where you can spin [the image] around, zoom in and zoom out… The actual narrative-driven thing that they’ve made for the opera is quite a fully-formed, fully-fledged thing. Whereas, with the first test they came to me with, which was a super quick little walking girl with a copy of one of my archive outfits on – it was super simple but it was it was so effective, [seeing] how you can get hypnotised by just playing around with it.

Aïsha: You get immersed in it.
Gareth: Yeah, it’s frustrating as a fashion designer when you don’t get to design your things in 3D – you see something more in a 3D piece. I remember my first show in Paris, where the clothes were white at the front and black on the back, but all of the look pictures that were online were just of the front of the white outfits, and you missed the whole idea. Seeing things in 360 is the way forward. It does sort of kill me a little bit when designers say that they design collections for Instagram [or have] Instagram-friendly collections, it’s just not something that I do myself, so I think that this [current project] offers me an opportunity to get around that, but still exist within a modern, technological landscape because everything is moving towards that, and obviously we have to move with it.

Gareh Pugh / Werkflow 'Antigona'

Aïsha: What do you think is important to consider when embarking upon an innovative project?
Gareth: My choices are pragmatic – if I have the time to do it, and I like the people who are involved with it and the opportunity seems enticing, then it’s something that I’ll do my best to do. I think that it is very much an instinctive thing, if it feels right, then you go with it. It’s like taking a leap of faith. I think that sometimes these things are important to take, and sometimes I’m a big believer in not really thinking about things too much. I don’t separate it from my fashion week shows, I just see it all as one body of work.

Explore the immersive Antigona program here.