examining the skinhead legacy with london’s menswear star martine rose
As Ditto Press release their latest book, Skinhead: An Archive, alongside an exhibition at their London HQ and a collaborative MA-1 bomber by Martine Rose, we ask the menswear designer whether there's still a place for skinheads in modern society.
Skinhead: An Archive is a new exhibition and book by London publisher's and print studio Ditto Press, designed by Jamie Reid, and compiled by punk historian Toby Mott, documenting the rise and fall of the skinhead scene. Alongside this, London menswear designer Martine Rose is showing a newly design MA-1 flight jacket and patches. i-D caught up with Martine to talk about the project's influences and the controversies of the often misunderstood subculture.
How did you get involved in the project?
I was aware of Toby of course, his reputation precedes him as it should. But Ditto press approached me initially because my re-appropriation of the MA-1 jacket, which I have consistently referenced throughout my collections. It was quite an organic conversation, we talked a lot about the book, I felt an immediate connection with the subject matter and content. I was already on board by the end of the conversation.
What was your first exposure to the skinhead scene?
I can't really remember, although I think it's almost impossible to separate the clothes from the music. Coming from a Jamaican family, the reggae music adopted by the early skins has always been extremely familiar, and subsequently so has the skinhead scene somehow. When it was the adopted by the right wing, it was of equal interest in a different way, as a sort of cartoon cut out of what the enemy looked like when I was young.
Were you worried about the often controversial nature of the politics of the skinhead movement? Even though there are plenty of elements that resisted it - there's the homo-erotic element, the left wing sharpies, even apolitical skins.
There is nothing wrong with controversy if it starts a conversation; apathy is far more dangerous. So no, I wasn't worried about the subject or the various ideologies it's been associated with. It would be nuts to ignore or not discuss right wing politics just because its uncomfortable, in the same way to ignore that the style of dress was also appropriated by the gay scene
What about romanticising the scene?
Yeah that was more of a concern, which is why working with Toby and Ditto was so great. There was automatically an authenticity to the project because of the material we had to work with. The book covers all areas of the scene, and Toby's ephemera also spans the whole thing not just one area of it.
At the Return of the Rudeboy exhibition at Somerset House, the curators were adamant that Rudeboys still had a place of relevance in modern society, that they were more than merely a museum piece; do you feel the same about skinheads? I ask because there's obviously a line of continuity between the two cultures, and its interesting how they might still relate to each other.
I think the terminology is really important. Rudeboy's exist still of course, but they wear an entirely different uniform. Skinhead culture was an authentic response by young people at time to the things affecting their environment. It's always led by young people, it has to be, in which case its up to them really, they make the noise. There are not the same catalysts that would result in the same outcome, immigration from Jamaica doesn't really happen, at least in the numbers that it did. And then culture in Jamaica has also changed, it's a different time. The importance here is that it was authentic, a completely organic reflection of society led by young people. We should be asking what now, what's the next thing because there is plenty to react against
Elements of skinhead fashion have been part of a larger youth culture for awhile now, everyone wears Dr Martens and has a flight jacket now, no one finds a Grade 1 hair cut visually intimidating any more.
With so many ideologies eventually adopting the style it couldn't exist as one coherent thing anyway. Of course it was such a stylish visually and arresting look that it has become assimilated into our modern dress because it has such powerful and seductive associations, race, sex, politics - everything you shouldn't talk about at a dinner party!
The MA-1 which you made for the exhibition is maybe, alongside the 14-hole Dr Martens boot, is the most obvious visual cue for the skinhead movement, is that why you decided to re-make one for the exhibition? Did it feel like an obvious place to start?Yes, through all of the different 'groups' associated with the scene, one of the constants was the MA-1 flight jacket. Having already used the MA-1 extensively, I turned to my archive. I find it really interesting to subvert the Skinhead staple and push the boundaries of what really makes and MA-1 identifiable, before it becomes something else.
What was the inspiration and process behind the patches? It's very similar in a way to your work with old rave flyers for your autumn/winter 14 collection, but the use of names almost reclaims the individual from the collective look or aesthetic of the culture.
We have become so familiar with badges being used to show our affiliations, that it can almost become a cliché. As we discussed earlier, it was really important not to romanticise everything too much - or remake badges that would have been just a pastiche of the originals. While going through the book, I was really struck by these individuals, 'Chalky', 'Luke', Nicky', and actually they were just as important as any political affiliation, they were the scene. So I decided to use their names, almost in celebration of their anonymity but quiet existence and contribution.
Skinhead: An Archive runs until 22nd January at Ditto Press, 4 Benyon Road, London N1 5TY
Text Felix Petty