Interview: Martine Rose

June 27, 2013

There are very few designers in the world that could turn an interest in Rick James into a avant-garde collection of frilly cropped button down shirts, long blonde wigs and the biggest billowing pants you ever did see, but that's just the way that Martine Rose’s mind works, refracting her ever-expanding interests into a kaleidoscope of clothes that defy easy understanding but, as out there as they can be, always make us drool to have them in our closets. If you're curious about how she seems to juggle so many different cultures and subcultures in each of her collections, you'd have to go to South London, where Rose's upbringing was a happy jumble of ethnicities, sexualities, music and the rave life that was so prevalent during her childhood, as she explained to us earlier this year in a feature on the London streetwear scene: "It was this massive racial mix. Dance music brought together people who were into reggae, hip-hop, white indie kids, white acid kids. It was black, gay, white, young, old." It's ambitious to try to sew that diversity right into her clothes, but as you can see, Rose is a pro. Here, she tells us about her latest collection for spring/summer 2014, plus take a listen to the awesome soundtrack for the show by her friend and collaborator Lord Tusk.

First of all, this is the second season you did crazy wigs. Where'd this crazy hair interest come from? It’s a bit weird, isn’t it? Fall/Winter 13 was the first time we used them. We used street-cast boys, but the whole street casting thing has become such a thing in London, so the boys become sort of familiar faces dotted through all of the shows. We sort of wanted to steer away from that because that’s why we didn’t use models in the first place, because it’s supposed to be the average boy. So the wigs are a way of taking it back to anonymity—we sort of covered their faces with it. Really, what we’re looking for in the first place is for someone to be someone else. And also, I'm realizing I need continuity between seasons, little elements that carry through. It helps people identify you.

Was there a person in particular that inspired the hair and the rest of the collection? Rick James. I didn't want it to be so literal, but we were playing Rick James all season, and I’ve always been a massive Rick James fan. It started to really form the season. There’s one interview that he does in Germany, and he’s just covered in glitter. It’s the most absurd, beautiful thing, but because it’s Rick James it’s so authentic and so believable. It’s an extension of who he is. He still manages to be really sexy, really masculine, and really dangerous, and the man is covered in glitter with long hair. It’s just like, That’s fucking cool. And I just thought, God, there was a time where men actually took risks with their style!

And people wouldn’t call them gay or a metrosexual or anything. You could wear green leather and still be a ladykiller. Exactly, it was nothing to do with sexuality. I was looking at like Prince, Rick James, James Brown. Prince wore fucking high heels. And there was nothing feminine about it. It was so sexy, like so attractive. So it was like, Why are we accepting this really prescribed idea of like gay man, straight man, metrosexual, whatever? Menswear apart from womenswear—it’s so boring yet we sort of accept it. When I was looking at the references for the hair, I was getting so into it. I was looking at Little Richard, James Brown, Snoop Dogg, Cab Calloway, Big Worm from Friday. There is an opportunity for men to really groom and it doesn’t reflect who they want to have sex with. It’s just like, Who cares? What has that got to do with anything?

Are you hoping that kind of flamboyance makes a come back? I’m so optimistic. I really hope so. I really hope that there is a time that comes back where men can really groom and be flamboyant, and it is not assumed that it’s just a certain bracket of man that does that. We're all a little scared though. I just feel like these prescribed ideas of maleness that we’ve accepted have been dripped into us over the past decade. It has an impact. We actually really like to put people in boxes, because that’s how we feel safe.

Pushing away from that sort of heritage thing, with the very masculine workwear and 1960s suits? Yes, definitely. Beyond that, I guess there’s also this whole sportswear type thing going on. I guess like a Supreme thing—and that’s not to take away from what Supreme is because it’s a fantastic thing. I am a fan, but it’s quite narrow. It’s not about them as a label, it’s more about what we think men should wear if you’re a cool guy, or a straight guy, or a gay guy. But then there's just Rick James on the front of his album cover with thigh-high red boots and a leather jumpsuit.

London is becoming quite known for streetwear, but this collection seems like a pivot away from that for you. That makes it sound contrived or something, it makes me feel like I’m trying to be sensationalist or something. And I’m not at all. It’s not my sole aim to just be different from what everyone else does. But people really do want to box you in and say, Martine Rose is a streetwear brand with streetcast models. When you start to feel boxed in as a sportswear designer, streetwear-inspired, or whatever, you’re just like, No, that’s not all of what I am. I just don’t want to be boxed into this narrow view.

London's also gotten an enormous amount of attention for menswear recently. How are you coping? Does it change your work process? It’s so wild. So this season, instead of doing a runway show, we did a presentation because you can control all the elements. We made this video, we had a music element, we built this weird presentation element, and all of these little bits. I felt like I was a little bit insulated. You have the immediacy of a show and it’s like boom, People start reviewing it right away. With a presentation, it’s not quite like that. The atmosphere was different. We built a space you could chill in, basically. It’s really interesting because people sort of mill around the space and enjoy it. They actually respond very differently to it. It’s not so frantic.

Tell me about the space? Seems like you built a whole little world. Last season I really became interested in our spaces and how we decorate them and create these worlds, how they reflect who we are or who we’re not. We can live in places that don’t reflect who we are at all. I did so much research into interiors and that’s really how we started to fill this world for this character, what it might look like. All of the furniture is Ligne Roset, and we had all these different things. We had cactuses revolving on platforms, bowls of oranges, bowls of glitter. What I loved was that the model, Frank, was sitting in a blonde wig covered in glitter and totally owned that space. That’s what I wanted, the authenticity that Rick James had when he was covered in glitter and giving an interview feeling totally comfortable. That’s Frank lounging around in glitter and a blonde wig, looking like, Yeah, this is who I am and this is what I do.

Seems like you’re interested in creating an entire brand lifestyle. That’s eventually what I want. In some way that’s what I think everyone who designs shoots for. That would be silly to ignore. I rarely get to the end of the season and feel 100% proud. In fact I’ve never got to the end of the season and thought, Yeah that was good.” I’m not very good at looking back at my work and picking out the good bits, I’m hypercritical. This was the first season that I’ve really gotten to the end and thought it was exactly what I wanted.

This is also the second season that you did the massive billowing pants. Like I said, I’m starting to realize, very late it turns out, that you really have to repeat things. I’ve been a late bloomer in understanding this, you really need to repeat it and feel confident in your message because that’s when people feel confident in your message. I wouldn’t repeat stuff if I didn’t think it could genuinely be something or I didn’t like it.

I think the silhouette is so beautiful, it’s such a nice shape. Thinking in terms of cycles, there has to be a time where another silhouette will come in. There was a time where skinny jeans were the most ridiculous silhouette you could put on a man, and a new silhouette has to come in. I’m just hoping that it will be this

So you’re just pushing guys to try new things basically. I’m just pushing. Here I am, just always like, Come on guys, you can do it. Because you can!

(Styling Max Pearmain, stills and video Oliver Hadlee Pearch, presentation stills Rory Van Milinengen, set Poppy Bartlett and Adam De Cruz, hair Johnnie Sapong, music Lord Tusk, model Frank Le Bon, sponsor Ligne Roset)

Interview: Martine Rose