menswear designer/ london
interview by RAIN LAURENT
photography by BENEDICT BRINK
style by ERIKA KURIHARA
RAIN LAURENT — I think what everyone’s wondering is, how do you do it all? You’re pregnant, you have a child, and you are consulting for Balenciaga and Napapijri, and you have your own brand.
MARTINE ROSE — How do I do it? Loads of help. My mum and my boyfriend help take care of my son Valentine. Actually, it sounds so much more impressive than itis in reality. It was much harder when nobody knew who I was, when I was doing just my own brand.
RAIN LAURENT — Do you think people only really got to know your brand through your collaborations, especially in the last two years?
MARTINE ROSE — For sure. There’s been a marked difference.
RAIN LAURENT — But you’re saying it’s actually easier for you now, with all those collaborations going on plus the pressure of running your own brand?
MARTINE ROSE — Yes. I think it was harder before. Just because I never knew if anyone was hearing me or if it was resonating. I never had any money. It was always resonating with a core group of people, but never enough to earn a living, to do all of that shit. Looking back now, I’m like, “Why the fuck did I do it for so long?” And I think people give me more credit than I’m due because people are like, “Oh, you know, you just kept on with that vision,” and I’m like, “Hmm, I’m not so sure.” It was this crazy focus that I had. I don’t know if I really knew what else I could do. Do you know what I mean?
RAIN LAURENT — You always wanted to do fashion?
MARTINE ROSE — I couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to do. I was just really into culture — club culture in particular. And it always came through music, and I was psyched up and really, really young.
RAIN LAURENT — How old were you when you were into club culture?
MARTINE ROSE — I remember having my 14th birthday in an illegal club in Vauxhall. So that young, really! But even before that. I have a large extended family, and my older cousin, Darren, was really into going out to raves. And when everyone came back from Camden, Palace and stuff, they all
went to a common — like a park — near my nan’s house, and they carried on raving during the day. But because it was a park, I could go! So my cousin used to take me to these, and everyone was obviously off their faces [laughs] and just carrying on dancing, with all this music.
RAIN LAURENT — Did you have to go home early?
MARTINE ROSE — No, because it was in the day, and it was in a park, and I was nine years old. So I had this really weird access to club culture very, very young.
RAIN LAURENT — This was the early ’90s?
MARTINE ROSE — Mm-hmm. That was like ’89, early ’90s. And that’s when I really remember this feeling, this real feeling of fashion and music, knowing that this was something special that I loved.
RAIN LAURENT — Were you admiring the way these adults dressed?
MARTINE ROSE — Yeah, what they wore — and it sounds so fucking cheesy, but I remember being really plugged into this feeling of unity. And seeing black, white, straight, gay… all of this. It was really when house music, dance music — in London in particular — was really cohesive. And I remember it was a feeling. It was a real feeling that I had, even at nine years old; I could sense that this was a movement or something.
RAIN LAURENT — When you got older and started to go out on your own, did you start to make your own clothes?
MARTINE ROSE — I know this might make me sound like a bit of a fake, but I never made my own clothes. It wasn’t ever the making that I was really interested in. I made other shit — for a while, I actually contemplated going into sculpture. When I went to art school, before fashion college, I was much more into form and stuff like that. I have a sister who’s 15 years older than me, so part of my fashion club culture experience was watching her go out. I remember she was obsessed with Jean Paul Gaultier, Katharine Hamnett, and Pam Hogg. She was extremely daring with what she wore. I remember her going to Notting Hill Carnival, and she made this fucking outfit out of two chamois leathers. I mean, it was tight; my dad was horrified! Anyway, so when I started going out, I had loads of cast-offs. So weirdly, I was this 14-year-old going to some shit club wearing, like, Gaultier, you know? And BodyMap, and stuff like that.
RAIN LAURENT — Is streetwear what led you toward menswear?
MARTINE ROSE — Yeah, possibly. I always remember clubbing was just dressing for function — clothes that you could dance in, that you could sweat in. And I guess that maybe menswear is more functional in a way.
RAIN LAURENT — Were your early collections designed with functionality in mind?
MARTINE ROSE — Not so clearly. I’ve never really been a massive strategist, you know. I think my route through fashion has been much more ambling. It was always about dancing — having a full experience.
RAIN LAURENT — You’ve said that you’ve never had a particular man in mind when you design. What do you picture when you think about the people people who buy your clothes?
MARTINE ROSE — When I first started my label, I went through classic small business courses, and they’d say, “You need to know your target market,” and “Who is the Martine Rose man?” And whenever I’ve tried to really define him, I’ve always fucked up. It’s never really that guy. Women wear it, younger people wear it, and older people wear it. It’s always too narrow to be able to define him or her.
RAIN LAURENT — You have a lot of stockists in Asia, especially Japan. Was that the first country to discover you?
MARTINE ROSE — You know what, I think it was. It was GR8 in Tokyo. They’re really much more trusting — putting their faith in young brands. I feel like they’re just excited from the beginning. They don’t really have the same sort of conservative attitudes toward young designers that they do in Europe. You know, slightly snobbish.
RAIN LAURENT — Where do you look for inspiration?
MARTINE ROSE — Music, art. Not really fashion.
RAIN LAURENT — Mostly ’90s music?
MARTINE ROSE — No, no, my god, no. It can be classical, it can be dancehall. Like Duke Ellington said: “There’s only two types of music: good music, and the other kind.” I just like good music, and that can be any genre.
RAIN LAURENT — How would music inspire your clothes?
MARTINE ROSE — This is another thing that is difficult to define, to be put into words. It can be a lyric that evokes something; it can be an album cover; it can be a feeling. I was listening to Mark E.Smith one season, and The Fall had a song called Hip Priest. There was something about the edginess of the song that made you feel quite uncomfortable, andI really wanted to communicate that feeling in the clothes. So it can be as abstract as that, or really sort of defined, like an album cover.
RAIN LAURENT — How did your Balenciaga collaborationcome about? Did Demna Gvasalia approach you?
MARTINE ROSE — Well, the funny thing is, we have a mutual friend — photographer Oliver Pearch. Ollie told me, way back in 2014, “There’s this guy Demna that I’ve done some stuff with, he loves your stuff. He’s asked me to give him your contact.” And I was like, “Oh, okay, that’s nice.” And he said, “Yeah, he’s started this label, I think he’s gonna call it Vetements or something.” And obviously Vetements blew up. And I think I’d had one or two e-mail conversations with Demna, sort of very sweet, but nothing. Then when Balenciaga happened, I e-mailed him to say congratulations, and he said, “Actually, do you want to come to Paris, because I definitely know that I want to do something with men’s.” And I was like, “Oh, okay, sure!” I went to Paris, and we got on like a house on fire. I don’t think we even really spoke about work… maybe a little bit about work, but not really. It was more that we had this sort of connection.
RAIN LAURENT — Balenciaga must have a completely different structure from how you usually work.
MARTINE ROSE — I’ve never had a job before. It’s really my first job. I’ve never even had a model template to copy, you know what I mean? And how people do it, how the industry actually runs, it’s always been a bit cut-and-paste with me. So that’s been an incredible learning curve. I can see where so much of my time has been wasted. It’s been eye-opening.
RAIN LAURENT — How are you planning to grow your own business?
MARTINE ROSE — On a wing and a prayer! How I’ve always sort of done it. I think recently I’ve grown in confidence, in that I didn’t think that I had a method and I still don’t… but what ever I have and haven’t done is what worked, in a way. I haven’t been an overnight sensation — I’ve been doing this for 10 years now.
RAIN LAURENT — You have a kid, you have a home life — it must be hard.
MARTINE ROSE — Yes, but I really love my job. It’s become particularly pleasurable since I’ve had kids, weirdly! Maybe because I have this other lovely focus or something. It wasn’t until I had Valentine that everything really sort of blew up for me. You know, Demna contacted me, and Napapijri, and all of this other really good stuff. And I really love working. I feel really blessed at the moment.
RAIN LAURENT — If you could dress someone from the past for one of their music videos, who would it be?
MARTINE ROSE — I should really think about this. It’s really hard. Robert Palmer! Looking for Clues. He’s walking down a white corridor…
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