martine rose explores cultural history and sexual politics
In Paris, we find that the Martine Rose autumn/winter 19 man is more roots-y, sexy and showy than ever before.
Photography: Eloise Parry
Last season Martine Rose created one of the show moments of the year with a beautiful ode to her city, London. For spring/summer 19, the designer took us to a cul-de-sac in Kentish Town, bringing fashion onto the streets. It was a celebration of her community, her tribes of boys, her thumping music, her distorted design daydreams. It had everything. So how do you beat it? Her answer for autumn/winter 19 was not to do a show at all. “Last season was such an experience, so not doing a show felt like the most radical thing I could do now,” Martin explained as she talked us through the collection inside her showroom in Paris. “There’s a temptation to want to outdo yourself and you can get caught up in it all, get addicted to that buzz, but that’s not why I do fashion, I do it because I love clothes and it’s not always about my experience, so we did the absolute opposite here.”
Although we missed her, we weren’t surprised when the LFWM schedule was released without the name of one of our favourite designers. From the moment Martine Rose launched her eponymous line in 2007 she has ignored well-trodden paths, defied expectations and cultivated her own way within the fashion industry. “I’ve always done my own thing, initially through financial pressures, but then it evolved into my way of doing,” she explained. “I enjoy different ways of showing.” In our spring/summer 19 review, i-D deputy editor Felix Petty asked: “What would the London menswear scene be without Martine Rose?” Well, London fashion Week Men’s missed her, and her absence made us appreciate her energy and her ingenuity even more. Here, we had her all to ourselves. Away from the noise and distraction of fashion weeks, the collection’s collage of autobiographical elements, cultural history and sexual politics could be savoured, questioned and explored much further than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion parade, however epic. In a safespace away from the Gilets Jaunes protests, Martine’s playful celebration of individuality was as powerful and as persuasive as ever.
Over ten years Martine has subverted and reimagined male archetypes, from bankers to bus drivers, mountaineers to couriers to ravers. Volume, proportion and fabrication are used in dynamic ways to blur the line between the familiar and the unconventional. She playfully probes the former functionality or past popularity of certain aesthetic tribes. For autumn/winter 19 she pushed these tribes further than ever as she created a wardrobe that twisted up the classics and reinvented the normal. Sportswear-inspired pieces had a baroque feel, hoodies are sun bleached, words printed across T-shirts are not quite what they seem. “Here the Martine Rose man is more roots-y, sexy and showy than ever before,” she noted.
“I really enjoy when something feels like it’s just on the border of bad taste,” she explained as she pointed out a pair of studded jeans. “It raises questions of what good taste is. I really enjoy the place in which it’s uncomfortable.” The track tops and football shirts that she has distorted in recent seasons are a highlight of the collection, but here, they’re ruched, or have cutaway shoulders so they look like club vests. These pieces encapsulate Martine’s desire to take what is typically masculine and then blur the binary. Throughout, normcore becomes hardcore. Jeans in warm grunge colours have an extra high waist, dropped crotch and extended zip fly, echoing punk pants. “I like this sense of sex underneath everything, and these nods to something else,” she said. Elsewhere, straight cut overcoats have open pockets that allow the wearer to put his hands through the coat and directly into the pockets of his trousers, in the process cinching the waist and ruching the sleeves, echoing workwear and creating a silhouette shake-up. On closer inspection, the words embroidered on Martine’s hoodies are full of sexual innuendo. Everything is very cheeky but nothing is throwaway.
Fresh from a collaborative exhibition at Slam Jam during Milan fashion week men’s, Martine worked with dance-flyer archivist Steve Terry. The pair looked at a collection of anonymous homoerotic images documenting gay subculture in 60s and 70s San Francisco. Satin woven badges and lenticular belts depict images from Terry’s collection, accompanied by slogans like “as thin as a shadow, as strong as an ox” and “the best”, taken from 1950s condom packaging. Hot!
Alongside her playful exploration of sexual politics, Martine tackled another issue close to her heart. Designed against the backdrop of the UK government’s shameful handling of the Windrush Scandal, she injected the collection with her own heritage and cultural roots. From remembering the West Indian home interiors of her youth and reimagining faded leather sofas in shirting and faded floral furnishings as a jacquard on trousers and a skirt. Small souvenir plates and pleated shirts continued the theme. “The Windrush Scandal has been particularly poignant for me and it was something we couldn’t ignore. So, we looked at the idea of souvenir tea towels and worked on three semi-autobiographical prints.” One shirt was printed with her nan’s recipe for ackee and saltfish, another Jamaica print detailed the history surrounding the HMT Empire Windrush, and a Bristol print acknowledges the city where she was born. Martine, we love you.