Flicking through books and hanging around London’s Tottenham. Inspiration can be something extremely natural. Can come from normal little things or feelings. But then, yes, then ideas need discipline and unique dedication. Martine Rose’s venture into menswear is the genuine proof of that.
British designer’s namesake fashion project has been building a solid reputation over the last few years. After debuting in the early ‘00s, backed by East Fashion’s Lulu Kennedy, Martine has been honing her approach to fashion and shaping her identity as a designer.
We got the chance to sit down with Martine Rose just after presenting her Napapijri revisitation to the world, at our Paris Showroom. We talked about her creative process, radical beauty and how repetition makes you own ‘things’ in fashion.
Where do you begin when designing a collection?
Well, it can vary massively from season to season. I don’t have one formula that fits every time. Usually, it starts with something as vague as a feeling or even a scent of something. It’s something that I can’t even articulate very well until I start going to the library, which is the first step in my research. At the library I try to find something that matches this vague feeling that I have. To begin with, I cast the net wide. I would sit in the library for hours flicking through books and watching films. After a while, the laws of attraction kick in and I begin attracting things that mirror the feeling that I have, and from then on it begins to become more concrete. From then on I can start pinning that feeling to something real and start creating a story, or, for example, associating music with the collection. Which in turn allows me to link the collection to other things.
You’ve mentioned that music can have an important role for you in the design process. Once you said the music can guide how the final piece comes out. How does that work?
Yes, and it’s always different. For example, a few seasons ago it began as being very much about the person behind the music. In this case Mark E. Smith, from The Fall. It was about him as a character, him as a difficult, brilliant person. But the more I worked on it the more it became about this one song in particular, “Hip Priest”. There was something so disjointed about this song, but also fantastic. I don’t know, it just became more and more about this one song. But then this hasn’t happened again. Subsequent seasons threw up other, different ways of relating music to the collection. Above all I try to be as authentic as possible when I work. I try to honor the feeling I have.
What kind of material do you enjoy consuming at this stage? Movies, music, images?
Each material, from sourcing vintage pieces to going to the library, watching movies and listening to music. They’re equally important. I do love music, but it would feel unfair to say one is more important than the other.
Then ideas enter your studio. Where is it based, and how does its location influence your process?
Right. My studio is in Tottenham, a vibrant area of London. It’s also massively diverse, with distinct communities - Chinese, African, West Indian, South American, Turkish, Kurdish - that live side by side. So that’s very inspiring and of course always leaks into my work.
Do you imagine a specific narrative around your man when you’re building the collection? What is your character doing?
I don’t know if I build that much of a narrative about who he or she is or where they’re based or what they’re doing. More than anything else what I tend to do is build pictures around people I want to hang out with. People I’d like to see, people I would choose to spend my time with. Brave, odd people.
You’ve talked a lot about oddness, how much do you want your clothes to have a certain oddness?
I love oddness. I love odd people. I love odd things. I love anomalies. I like things that are elegant in their mismatchedness. Which allows them to create a new elegance which goes beyond a classic idea and becomes its own thing.
You’ve also talked about the cultural and political value that you think clothing has. Can you tell us more about that?
Fashion and politics and rebellion and youth movements have been linked since time immemorial. I’ve always found clothing radical, on a fundamental level, leaving aside a discussion about the fashion industry, what it’s becoming and so on.
What people wear, how they choose to wear it, why they choose to wear it, the tribes they decide to align themselves with is still a radical act. And I find this an endless source of inspiration like any designer does. I don’t think any designer could deny finding beautiful and being fascinated by the how and why kids on the street wear things.
You expanded on how learning to use repetition from collection to collection enables you to build a distinct identity for yourself. Is this something you’re still thinking about?
Yes, I guess so. Sometimes I think “Oh my god, what I’m doing is so diverse, how can anyone identify me?”. Because I feel like I can put out things that go from one extreme to another. So the repetition of “owning things” has been a response to my feeling like that. It’s been a way to ensure that I am creating some kind of narrative. Even though each collection or piece can feel very different, that silhouette is still there. But at the same time sometimes I still just have to trust that my fingerprint is going to somehow be there regardless of what I do.
Thinking about the final product, what feeling do you want your customers to experience?
Well, I really hope they feel like “Fuck it, great!”. I hope they feel like almost it’s wrong, but good, like you’re pushing yourself. It should feel exciting. You should feel individual. I hope I can imbue people with those feelings.
It seems like your work is really about responding to this beauty, this radicalness that already exists in society.
I hope so! I really hope so. I mean, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for teenagers when they went to SEX, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s store, but I think they felt like they were buying something special, something historical, something that they would hold onto for years, something that made them feel a certain way. It would be incredible if in some small way that was similar to a feeling people could have when they bought my clothes.
When you collaborate with other brands, or do a consultancy, is the creative process the same?
In general, it’s quite a different process because I’m working with somebody else’s DNA. In the case of Balenciaga in particular though, the process is quite closely aligned to what I do with my own brand. I’m responding to a feeling or direction or mood that I feel is relevant, and I start to attract things that embody that feeling. And then later I’ll start editing out and deciding what feels Balenciaga or not.
What about NAPA by Martine Rose?
With Napapijri I’m still very much responding as authentically as possible to things but I have to keep their DNA in it. I mean, Napapijri is a brand that’s really big. It’s very present. I know that in Italy – but also in London – loads of people wear it, it’s huge. But it’s so big that it almost becomes a backdrop, something you can’t see. So hopefully what I can do with my collection is to make people see the same thing in a new way, to bring it into focus. And this hopefully allows people to interpret it in a fresh way.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.