Cross-dressing child emperor inspires tale of Roman-era sex and scandal

(CNN)British fashion designer Gareth Pugh -- known for his sculptural and experimental aesthetic -- has designed over 60 costumes for the "Eliogabalo" opera at the Palais Garnier in Paris.

A dramatic tale of sex, power and greed, it launched the Paris opera season on September 16, the night before Pugh's Spring-Summer 2017 fashion show in London.
While the links between opera and fashion may not immediately be clear, Pugh has managed to seamlessly connect the two, using the plot of "Eliogabalo" as inspiration for his runway collection.
    "The character that the opera portrays, there's so much richness there that it kind of felt a shame to not investigate that further," he explained. "It's recontextualizing the opera and showing it to a different audience."
    Written in 1667 by Italian composer Francesco Cavalli, the opera is based on the life of the Roman child emperor Heliogabalus, who anointed himself a sun god and was known for overt displays of wealth, power and sexuality. (Think color-themed banquets, extreme orgies and subversive street parades).
    The tyrant emperor Eliogabalo is played by Franco Fagioli, a countertenor.
    Despite the age of the play and its historical context, Pugh was keen to place his designs within a conceptual reality, rather than referencing a specific time period.
    Costumes have a sculptural quality, with recurring sun motifs and references to the chaos symbol -- eight arrows leading out from a central point -- representing the destructive power of the central character. This was echoed in the fashion collection.
    Models walk the runway at the Gareth Pugh show during London Fashion Week Spring-Summer collections 2017.
    Joining the dots between these two different disciplines is no easy feat, but the response from critics has been positive.
    Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes commented in her review for Vogue.co.uk: "We have seen Gareth's dramatic presentations many times in his 11 year career -- his shows moved from Paris to London after the first decade -- and his graphic fashion language is now familiar. But this season, the way he turned grandeur into drama while keeping the show under control, was masterly."
    While this is his first foray into opera, Pugh is no stranger to the stage. He collaborated with choreographer Wayne McGregor on the ballet "Carbon Life" at the Royal Opera House in London in 2012, and "Alea Sands" at the Palais Garnier last December.
    The designer himself studied ballet as a child and spent a few summers as a teenager attending costume courses at the National Youth Theatre's London ateliers.
    But despite these experiences, "Eliogabalo" seems to have resonated particularly with Pugh, who believes the tale is highly relevant today.
    "Thinking about the story of this arrogant, petulant child who's been given the seat of all power and (the fact that) the greed that drives him is his ultimate downfall, I thought that was quite interesting with regards to what's going on in America," he says.
    "For me, it just feels very apt and culturally relevant in a wider context."
    Singers perform during a rehearsal of the opera "Eliogabalo" by Francesco Gabali, at the Garnier Opera in Paris shows
    "Eliogabalo" is on at the Palais Garnier until October 15, 2016.