If a picture paints a thousand words, Pam Hogg is probably the perfect choice to design costumes for the Citizens Theatre company’s new production of Cyrano de Bergerac. It was a picture, after all, that got Hogg the gig on Dominic Hill’s revival of the late Edwin Morgan’s Scots translation of Edmond Rostand’s classic nineteenth century yarn, first presented by Communicado Theatre Company in 1992.
When Hogg was first contacted by Hill about collaborating on his new co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, before they met, she put an image from her archive onto her phone. This was a typically instinctive move by Hogg, designed to give a taster of what she might be able to bring to the play, in which the poetic Cyrano is so embarrassed by his big nose that he is unable to express his love for the beautiful Roxanne. When Hill and Hogg met, Hill too pulled out an image to illustrate his own thoughts about the play. Both images were the same.
“That was the start,” says Hogg, “and that was everything. It was a feeling that showed exactly what kind of director Dominic was. He’s fluid, and I work in a fluid way. It’s all about feeling, and letting things – I hate that word evolve – but you’ve got a million ideas, and you muddle through until one arrives. It doesn’t matter when that comes out, as long as it does come out, and at some point the jigsaw puzzle will come together.
“That’s how I work, and that’s obviously how Dominic works as well. There were quite a few things from that very first meeting, where I’d ask what about this, and he’d say, oh, I don’t know yet. For me, that’s fresh air. It’s wonderful, because anything can happen, and it means there’s no painting by numbers. That’s everything to me, because you can get anybody to paint by numbers.”
As Hogg readily admits, such an approach “doesn’t always work for everybody, because you’ve got people who are waiting to be told what to do, and you have to work around what they’re doing. Bringing all that together is the main thing. There are still some things I ask Dominic, and he doesn’t know yet, but I’m fine with that. It’s trying to let everyone else know it’s fine, especially at this stage.”
If it wasn’t already clear, Hogg points out that “I work in a different way to everybody else. Whether it’s music or whatever, I don’t work in a normal way.”
Hogg mentions Sean McLusky, the former Subway Sect and Jo Boxers drummer turned London club impresario, who worked with her on assorted musical ventures.
“He would say, where’s the chorus? But he said it made him think in a different way. It’s thinking out of the box, basically, but not everyone can do that, which is a good thing, because you need somebody to pull the reins in and say we have to get something made, your show’s in three days’ time. Aaargghh! That’s when everything you always knew comes into focus, and that’s what’s happening right now with both myself and Dominic.
“I love solving a problem, because that’s when my ideas start to fly. There are hundreds of characters, and about seventeen actors who have to multi-task, and play about six characters each. They have to change within seconds, and all these magnificent ideas about frocks, they become about how you get on and off stage in two seconds, and you have to redesign and rethink things. That for me is a challenge I welcome. I love it.”
Holding court in the upstairs bar of a chi-chi Glasgow hotel, Hogg’s conversation free-forms its breathless, motor-mouthed and eternally in-the-moment way around the houses in much the same way, one imagines, as the working methods she so vividly describes. Clad in a blue tracksuit, beret and Chelsea boots, Hogg has applied a similar mix and match approach to a career which began with her studying Fine Art and Printed Textiles at Glasgow School of Art.
After further studies at the Royal College of Art, Hogg’s design work landed in the middle of a post-punk London club culture and music scene that put her personality as much as her clothes at its centre. Hogg sang with bands, made records with Acid House DJs and appeared on prime time TV chat shows. Her 1990 show at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in 1990 was the first fashion design exhibition to be held there.
Over the years she’s worked with Debbie Harry, Lady Gaga and Kylie, as well as sharing bills with post-punk icons The Raincoats and Chicks on Speed. In 2009, the Scottish Fashion Council gave her a lifetime achievement award, presented to her at Stirling Castle by Siouxsie Sioux. The morning after we meet, she’s off to work on a film with original Jess and Mary Chain bass player Douglas Hart.
Everything Hogg does, it seems, is a performance of sorts, but she’s no poser. In 2014, she was approached by Amnesty International and asked to give a nod to Pussy Riot, the Russian activist collective, three members of whom had been imprisoned for twenty months following their ‘punk prayer’ protest in 2012. With no show planned, Hogg worked flat out, and, on Valentine’s Day, her models walked the catwalk carrying placards dedicated to Pussy Riot, and bearing slogans such as ‘Love Is A Human Right’.
Hogg is unflinchingly honest, whether talking about the constant need to work to survive financially, or else the people she’s been close to who are no longer around. As for the move into theatre, as with everything she does, she leaps in head first.
“My stuff is quite theatrical, anyway,” she says. “It doesn’t matter to me if it’s music, film or whatever, I work in the same fluid way. I don’t term myself as a fashion designer. I’m like a fashion designer who knows nothing about fashion. So it doesn’t matter if I’m a fashion designer who knows nothing about theatre, because I’m open to everything, and I can fit myself into these places, because that’s what I love doing.
“Immediately I was asked to do Cyrano, I started having visions, and I tell you the most exciting thing, I went into rehearsals yesterday, and there’s no set, no lighting and no costume, and that’s so exciting. That’s what I’m used to. I jump through those sort of hurdles every single day.”
Cyrano de Bergerac, Tramway, Glasgow, September 1-22; Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October 12-November 3; Eden Court, Inverness, November 7-10.
The Herald, August 30th 2018