ON A BLINDINGLY bright day, stepping into the Gareth Pugh store on Ice House Street feels like entering a dark, dystopian parallel universe. The matte-black rubber walls and an enormous LED screen playing futuristic fashion films combine to create a striking but intimidating first impression – anything as conventional as a mannequin or window display is noticeably absent.
The store may feel shockingly sci-fi, but that, of course, is what Pugh is all about. One of the world's most exciting young fashion designers, he has charmed critics and celebrities alike with his carnival-esque shows and bravely outlandish designs, which may be best described as space-age punk. Black leather and latex feature prominently in his collections, and he once sent a model down the runway dressed as a poodle – the outfit's perky ears made out of inflated condoms.
Waiting in the store for Pugh to arrive, it's easy to get carried away imagining what he'll be like: hailed as everything from “the next McQueen” to “the mad prince of British fashion”, Pugh has a lot of hype to live up to. When he does arrive – remarkably entourage-free – he doesn't disappoint. Dressed in dark skinny jeans and a sleeveless flowing black top, and with artfully smudged black eyeliner, Pugh is every bit the gothic wunderkind that you'd hope. However, he's not in Hong Kong to talk about his clothes or his store: he's here to talk about diamonds.
The latest in a long line of designers to work with jewellery brand Forevermark, Pugh has collaborated with the company to create a one-off piece of fine jewellery. The collaboration is part of this year's Forevermark Promise Campaign, which aims to educate people about the brand's commitment to using only responsibly sourced diamonds: a comforting assurance in the oft-criticised diamond industry.
Although it was Pugh's first foray into fine jewellery, Forevermark trusted him entirely, and the quietly spoken designer is quick to sing the brand's praises. “With this project I was given a great amount of freedom – it was kind of free rein – which is something that's quite rare with these kind of collaborations,” he explains. “That gave me a lot of freedom to do exactly what I wanted to do, so it was nice to consolidate everything into this one piece.
“This piece,” as Pugh repeatedly refers to it, is still being made when we meet, so even he has yet to see the final product. However, he confirms it's a necklace and laughingly describes it as “quite a thing”, which suggests that his penchant for daring design has successfully translated into the world of jewellery. Trying to describe the necklace, he begins, “It's quite an extreme example but I guess it's a bit like a corset. When a woman wears a corset it restricts her; it dictates what you can do. It makes you stand a certain way. All good fashion should have some kind of transformative quality to it. So with the necklace, the idea is that when you put it on it makes you have this stately quality.”
The collaboration began when Pugh flew to South Africa to visit the mines and communities that Forevermark works with. His futuristic clothes have always hinted at his interest in technology, so it's not surprising when he expresses his fascination with the processes used by Forevermark's specialists in South Africa.
“When we went to the polishing factory and saw how they use 3D mapping to scan in a rough stone and cut it into a diamond as we know it – that process is quite amazing. It's quite geeky but it's something that I find quite fascinating,” Pugh enthuses. “How this ancient, millions-of-years-old rock meets this very new technology. That was certainly part of the process that I found quite exciting, which was also something that I wanted to include in the piece.”
This dichotomy of old and new and the potential for transformation is clearly something that captivates Pugh and is one of the many things that he has in common with artist and fashion icon Daphne Guinness, who is one of his staunchest supporters. Guinness herself ventured into the world of fine jewellery a few years ago when she co-designed a one-off diamond-encrusted glove with jeweller Shaun Leane, and Pugh is quick to admit how much she inspires him.
“Daphne's a very good friend and I helped her launch that glove at Jay Jopling's house. Certainly, when I think of this piece that we've made, somebody like Daphne would be the perfect person to wear it.”
There's something faintly ironic about Pugh working with diamonds – possibly the world's most expensive material – because despite his success he always seems to have had a somewhat bohemian approach to his work: he didn't sell a single piece of clothing until after he released his sixth collection and began his career while squatting in a converted warehouse in London.
However, Pugh maintains that – at its core – this collaboration is just an extension of the desire to design that drives him every day. “All design is about problem solving: it's the same whether it's designing jewellery, a dress, a video or a show,” Pugh reflects. “It's not always about the materials that you use that create the worth. With this piece, the diamonds are hugely important, but it's also about the skills used throughout the whole process and Forevermark's commitment to the diamond-mining communities: those things heighten it even more.”