Designer spotlight: Martine Rose, the London-based designer who intrigues with subtle androgyny

Designer spotlight: Martine Rose, the London-based designer who intrigues with subtle androgyny

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Text: Andrea Sim

An antidote to fashion's gender expectations

At a glance, you can't really tell if Martine Rose — the sartorial persona, not its eponymous designer — is a misfit or a cool kid. Pinging between athletic thigh-skimming shorts, suburban jumpers, intentionally 'ill-fitted' wide-leg trousers and bad-taste shiny silk shirts; his quiet disregard for menswear's hallowed rules is magnetic to say the least. But unlike a martyr dissecting masculinity while brandishing the torch of femininity, its an uncalculated rebellion that has the label dominating London's fashion scene. "There is no right or wrong — you work with interesting people to bring ideas to life," Rose says of designing. 

Which means, no controversy for the sake of shaking up monotony or attempts at whipping sartorial sense into a man. Instead, the designer purveys unbridled ease and the idea of being comfortable in one's skin — a lesson far more valuable than her price tags let on. Showing at London Fashion Week Men's FW17 after a stint over at Balenciaga with Demna Gvasalia, meet the up-and-coming Londoner on the fast track to the big leagues.  

Martine Rose SS17

Were you always interested in clothes from a young age?
I didn't really start designing until I attended fashion school and I can't remember a calling at a young age — I certainly didn't make my own clothes [in my childhood]. But, I was obsessed with youth culture. Being one of the youngest of a very large extended family, I remember sitting on the end of the bed watching my siblings getting ready to go out and being so fascinated by this world that I had yet to access. They were into different scenes and the fashion codes involved fascinated me. I think that's when fashion really captured my imagination. For me, it crystalised as something 'other', exciting, and alternative.

Who is the Martine Rose man and what is his story?
Whenever I have tried to define the Martine Rose man, I have come unstuck because there isn't one type of Martine Rose man — there are so many different people that he appeals to, and of both genders, with their own interesting stories. So, I have stopped trying to define who that person is and just enjoy the diversity.

With spring/summer 2017, what was the starting point of the collection and how did you derive the concept of 'old clothes, new owners'?
I became interested in this idea after some research and coming across images of children in Papua New Guinea wearing Arsenal T-shirts that didn't fit at all. [I was drawn to] how that football stripe would not have held the same connotations for those children as it would for say, a kid growing up in England.  I started to develop and research more around these ideas; exploring the concept of 'found' clothing and developing styles that appear to have been cut for a previous owner, or have been personalised by someone unknown to you.

What inspires you the most?
Fearlessness. Which is why youth culture in all its forms is so intoxicating — because it's brave and fearless. But beyond youth culture, all forms of expression that defy the status quo.

And what excites you?
There is a certain freedom in fashion that excites; that you get the privilege to imagine what will be relevant in six months time. There is no right or wrong, [and] you work with interesting people to bring ideas to life.

You've been known to shy away from showing on the official London schedule. What makes you break away from the timeline of fashion week?
It's really important to me to work as authentically as possible, [and] that includes the presentation. It's considered, and compliments the story I have built for the collection. This sometimes means that a film is the right message, or a presentation, [or even] just one look! I try to respond in this way to all aspects of the design process, more than following any set rules about seasons or catwalks. I find that really restrictive and outdated at times.

I have never paid too much attention to the fact that I am a woman designing men's clothes. It's simply a matter of taste in the end. What do you love most about London and how does that influence your work?
For me, London represents freedom; it pulses with life of all sorts. 

As a woman designing for men, what are the challenges you face if any at all?
I have never paid too much attention to the fact that I am a woman designing men's clothes. It's simply a matter of taste in the end.

Do you have any plans to expand into womenswear in the future?
I don't have any immediate plans, as for the time being women have been as enthusiastic about the collections as men, which is fantastic! For now I'm keeping the message really tight.

Martine Rose SS17

How do you think you're bringing something a little different to menswear?
I hope I am presenting  a broader perspective of what men can wear.

What is your personal style like, and how similar/different is it from the label?
Actually, fairly boyish and scruffy — more for convenience to be honest. I'd be happy with a uniform that I don't have to think about everyday as I spend most of my time running around. 

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