Martine Rose channels London's seedy side for SS23
For their first physical show in almost two-and-a-half years, the brand took to a railway arch that once housed the city's storied gay saunas.
Images courtesy of Martine Rose
The London Fashion Week Men’s schedule may have been stripped back this season, but that presented the perfect stage for Martine Rose to make her post-pandemic return to the catwalk and make a case for why London men’s fashion is so vital. Of course, Martine is very much the archetypal London designer. What she does is rooted in the city, in its various overlapping styles, subcultures and tribes and its musical and fashion histories. Which is exactly why she stages her shows in the capital’s fringe spaces and sites of authentic community, whether that is a Latin American market in Tottenham near her old studio, or her children’s school in Kentish Town. Wherever it is, she draws inspiration from the real people who surround and inspire her, the real people of the British capital so rarely celebrated in the realms of luxury fashion.
Which is not to say what she does is rooted in philosophies of normcore and the prosaic realities of easy wearability, but instead in the holistic magic that springs from the cross-pollination of the metropolis. She is interested in the way clothes mould us, and the way we mould the clothes we wear to our needs and desires. She creates clothes that feel unique in the way that clothes feel unique after we’ve worn them for years.
But desire may as well have been the one-word distillation of the theme this season. The show was staged in the arches beneath Vauxhall station that once housed Chariots – one of London’s most storied gay saunas. In its heyday, it was the libidinal hub of an area that has been home to the sexiest and seediest hedonists since the Pleasure Gardens inhabited the area in the seventeenth century. Incidentally it is just down the road from where Martine herself grew up. “It’s a really important, old community in London,” Martine explained. “And I wanted to celebrate it. It needs to be enjoyed.” Not many designers do pleasure as interestingly as Martine.
The tunnel-like room was misty and dark, and flanked with even darker latex curtains that were pulled up close to the seating. There was minimal space between the viewer and the models on the catwalk. It was about recreating that closeness and intimacy to fashion we’ve missed during the pandemic. “I wanted people to smell the latex,” Martine said. “I wanted people to see the sweat on the bodies, feel the closeness to the clothes, feel the energy as the models walk past. I wanted to create an experience for the people there, and pull people into it. I didn’t want anything removed or distant.”
The show started with the sounds of masculine panting and groaning emanating from deep in the depths of the night before moving into the slinky hardness of an industrial EBM soundtrack. This movement was mirrored in the clothes, which were all about the interplay between toughness and attitude and the fervent pull of sexual attraction. The season’s new silhouette was a coat pulled in tight to the body, cropped and tucked in and close. Sex was implied in stages of dress and undress, in flies pulling open, ill-fitting jackets, skirts rolled up and dresses unzipped at the back, all implying clothing just pulled on after a joyful and illicit dalliance. “There’s something really sexy about an open fly,” Martine joked.
“It all started with playing with the body,” she explained further. “It was about tension and pressure.” But the collection also mirrored the various and exciting people you may find deep in the darkest of dancefloors, illuminated briefly by the flash of a strobe: denim-clad girls, guys in unbuttoned suits, sports jackets, silk shirts, camo jeans and bomber jackets and leather trousers and zipped up shellsuits. And they came on a variety of people too, older, younger, men, women, different sizes. It was about showcasing the multitudes of people that inhabit these spaces – real people wearing idealised clothes and expressing their truest desires. It was the club as a microcosmic world, with Martine as the outfitter, creating the total wardrobe for business and pleasure and all kinds of human connection.
“It feels fucking great,” Martine said, of putting on her first show in two and a half years. “I underestimated how much I missed it. I love people, people are my thing. I missed the energy that it gives you, communicating with them. I love it”
All images courtesy of Martine Rose