Amidst the electric spirit of 1980s punk rebellion, British fashion designer Pam Hogg emerged as a self-taught, quirky powerhouse who quickly became a fixture of the fashion scene. “I went to art school to be a fine artist, until I discovered print design and its process. With no rules to follow, I just made it up as I went along, and I still do today.” Pam’s eclectic body of work embodies a forward-leaning hybridization of art and fashion. The offbeat designer’s work raises the proverbial middle finger to the mainstream fashion world, making her a visionary in the process. “I design out of the excitement of discovery rather than a targeted market,” says the artist, admitting that in order to keep working, she still must produce clothing that has a relative commercial appeal. “To stay in the game, a selling collection is what counts. I’m making moves to be able to do both.” Though she understands the balance between a mainstream sensibility and a personal vision, Pam is, above all, interested in following her own instinct, the same one that surprised even her. “I had no intention of being a fashion designer. I had been making my own clothes from an early age, so it was just something that came naturally to me.”
Pam’s work is currently showing at the Victoria & Albert Gallery in London in a show called “Wedding Dresses 1775-2014” alongside designers, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood, and Vera Wang.
Check out our Q&A with the inspirational designer and make sure to pick up your copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7 here!
Indira Cesarine: Do you feel it means something else to be a fashion designer today compared to when you started in the 1980s?
Pam Hogg: I feel I was lucky to have started in the 80s as there was more freedom in fashion, and retailers from all around the world flocked to London because of the small designer studios. Innovation was the key. At that point, the buyers helped with production by paying fifty percent up front to help small businesses with the much needed cash flow. Over the years, these individual creative studios and small shops diminished as the big brands took over and celebrities started to design their own merchandise. I feel itʼs more high powered now— and that of course has its place—but for me as a designer, I’ve more or less stayed the same. I still design out of the excitement of discovery rather than a targeted market, although to stay in the game, a selling collection is what counts. I’m making moves to be able to do both.
IC: Can you tell us about the early days? How did you get started in the fashion industry?
PH: I had no intention of being a fashion designer. Iʼd been making my own clothes from an early age, so it was just something that came naturally to me. People would come up and ask where I bought my clothes and the orders started from there. Eventually I was invited to share a unit at a fashion exhibition: there, I was approached by all the top stores, so fashion automatically became my business. It was much easier in the early days, as you could sell as little as ten to twenty pieces to each shop for an initial order, and keep replacing stock when they needed it. There was a great connection and understanding between both parties, so it flowed and everyone benefited.
IC: You are one of the original designers to make fashion that crosses over into art. Can you tell me about your creative process?
PH: I was always going to be a painter, that was my skill, along with drawing, that’s what I’d win prizes for. I went to art school to be a fine artist, but I discovered print design and its process. I’m self taught in fashion, as there was no fashion course. With no rules to follow, I just made it up as I went along, and I still do today. When I design I approach it with absolute openness. I’ll then hang onto an idea and let it take me in a direction which I’ll follow and explore. At any given time, something may spark off a totally new idea that takes me into the unexpected. That’s when it really starts to happen.
IC: Do you remember the first time you put together a runway show?
PH: Iʼll never forget it. I’d taken part in a few group shows, but the ten to eighteen outfits I was allotted didn’t feel enough to fully express myself, so I decided to do a full show. In my enthusiasm I must have made about a hundred pieces, and was still finishing them the day before the show. That night I realized what a mammoth task it was going to be to pair them to my fifteen models. I hadn’t had time to do fittings, so I was totally on my own, trying on all these garments, and guessing mainly from faces and sizes on model cards. I had a limited amount of shoes sizes so that made it all the more difficult. I was bagging up each outfit in clear plastic covers, attaching models’ names, and arranging them in the order they would appear on the catwalk to make it easy for the dressers. This took me all through the night, so Iʼd had no sleep right up to the moment I had to leave to get to the show. No one knew where I was, and there were no mobile phones in the mid-eighties, so I couldn’t ring on route to explain that I was on my way, and that all was organized, numbered, and allocated. I eventually arrived at the venue about twenty minutes before the show was to start. The dressers immediately took all the clothes from me while I searched for the person I had to give my music to and instruct about lighting. When I returned to the dressing room I discovered all the plastic bags with instructions had been removed from the garments, and were in a huge pile on the floor. In their eagerness to help, the dressers had undone the whole night’s work. The complete collection had been placed at random over five rails and I now had no idea which model was allocated to what outfit or the order I’d so carefully planned. At first I was in shock and thought I’d have to cancel the show. But then, something just clicked and I called for all models to move as fast as they could and just take any black PVC garment they saw that they thought would fit them, while I sectioned off all other looks into a rough order. I lined the girls up and sent them off down the catwalk. When they exited the catwalk, they then changed into the next outfit on the rail that fit until everything had been shown. By the end of the show the models were on the catwalk with undone bustiers and untied shoes looking like they had been having sex moments before! That would probably have been a disaster for most designers, but for me it actually worked out beautifully.
IC: What was your breakthrough moment as a designer?
PH: I was really lucky, as my work was noticed immediately by the most important magazines at the time. Commercially, it was my “And God Created Woman” collection around 1986 that was the most successful. My Bardot inspired dresses and tops sold worldwide and were in every magazine—from Vogue to ID to the Sunday supplements—plus they were worn in every music video at that time. Personally though, it was probably in 1989 with my “Warrior Queen” collection, when I was on the cover of ID magazine and had my first full five page interview. That’s when people really started to find out about me.
IC: What inspires your work?
PH: As soon as one collection is finished, I’m designing the next. It never stops. The more intense it becomes towards the show deadline, the more the ideas pour out, but I have to bring it to an end. It’s later, when I’m ready to get back into the studio, that all the unused ideas start to formulate. By then they’ll have found a new life and direction.
IC: Can you tell us about your new collection and what inspired it?
PH: This season I’d made the difficult decision not to show, to get prepared for a selling collection to sit alongside my show pieces for next season. However, just over three weeks before fashion week, Amnesty International contacted me asking if I’d give recognition to Pussy Riot within my collection, due to Fashion Week and the Russian games coinciding. I generally make some statement within my work, and it had been killing me that the season I had decided to not show was one where my biggest statement could be made, and actually have a voice. I was in turmoil for two days as I knew I couldn’t not show after that request. I had just three weeks to prepare, but after deciding on the title COURAGE inspired by Pussy Riot on their stance when leaving jail, the collection I quickly formulated in my head became a dedication and a celebration to them and Gay Culture. Color played the most important part, and I designed my first Tom Catsuits.
IC: How many people do you have working on each collection of samples? Are they primarily one of a kind pieces or do you produce them commercially as well?
PH: I generally make every piece myself, especially the finale garments that are more couture. I don’t have a personal assistant, but I take on up to three students each season, and they help with the sewing. I wasn’t showing this season, so I had no students, and apart for three pieces, which I designed and cut before sending off to be sewn, I got the entire collection together on my own. None of the pieces with a direct connection to Pussy Riot are for sale. They were made as a statement to bring their cause to notice and the couture pieces are one-of-a-kinds. The two finale wedding dresses in white were symbols of love and peace.
IC: You have been one of the first to create fashion films with your original music, such as your videos “Opal Eyes” and “Electricman.” Where do you see the future of fashion film going?
PH: My vision expands into another dimension. With the endless possibilities in filmmaking, I see my pieces work on the catwalk and in film, but limited time and finances don’t often allow for both at the same moment.
IC: As a creative visionary, what do we have to look out for from you in the next year?
PH: That’s a question I can’t answer, as it’s still formulating and unknown, even to myself, until I get back into my studio and let it unravel.
Designer Pam Hogg photographed by Rachel Smith for The Untitled Magazine
Interview by Indira Cesarine