Martine Rose has long treated her namesake label as a love letter to London. She bases her collections on the weird and wonderful characters who give the city its quirks, inviting the fashion pack to immerse themselves in her world: whether that’s staging shows in Seven Sisters Market, North London cul-de-sacs and even her own daughter’s primary school in Kentish Town.
What would happen, then, when she ventured onto foreign soil? “I’m very interested in something about ordinariness and everydayness,” explains Rose of her AW23 collection, which was held in Florence back in January. As part of the show season, Rose was the guest designer at the famed men’s trade show Pitti Uomo. It was the namesake designer’s first time showing outside of the Big Smoke. She told me that although the beautiful backdrop of Florence was enough reason to warrant staging her collection there. “I wanted to ingrain myself and interact with the city in a real way.”
“When I was first invited to show at Pitti, my first question to myself was, ‘How can I do what I do in London and transport it into Florence?’ And what I wanted to do instinctively was to really respond to the culture and the history of Florence and Italy.”
The designer chose Piazza del Mercato Nuovo as the show’s venue, a marketplace that has been at the centre of the city since the mid-1500s. Home to Fontana del Porcellino – a bronze boar statue that has long served as Florence’s good luck charm – as well as being the spot where public spankings over unpaid debts took place during the Renaissance, today it’s an area populated with tourist stalls swarmed with ‘I Love Italy’ hoodies, dupe handbags and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, now in fridge magnet form.
Time and again, Rose has mined UK dance floors and subcultures born under strobe lights for inspiration. From acid housers and junglists to gabber ravers, Blitz Kids and style tribes found in the seedy dark rooms of London’s most infamous queer club nights. Here, she pointed her focus on Italo Disco and Bologna New Wave, transforming the market into a louche Italian nightclub lined with mirrors and carpeted a piss-yellow hue. Her dance floor darlings were made up of street-cast locals, friends from London and calcio storico legends. (Calcio storico is a brutal form of football played topless, during the Middle Ages, on cobblestones – ouch).
Relishing in all things warped and wonky, Rose playfully disjointed classic Italian tailoring, shrinking and swelling proportions. From disguising “BuyOneGetOneFree” jumpsuits as two-piece suits to cheekily proposing office trousers as bumsters. Business in the front, party in the back. Full on. Full throttle.
Bombers and overcoats came with exaggerated collars that grazed models’ ears and were met with wadded plaid shirts, western-style fringing and boiled merino wool sweater vests that appeared to be frozen in place.
Rose has been studying dolls’ clothing, imagining what the rigid ensembles would look like human-sized. One bubble gum-pink puffer jacket could’ve easily dressed Barbie if she’d sold off the Dreamhouse, took half a pill and spent her days chasing euphoric bliss out on the tiles.
Anchored by Rose’s beloved square-toe loafers and a colourful update of the designer’s Nike MR4 trainer mule – in July, she released a tailoring collection with the brand in time for the Women’s World Cup, a first for the sportswear giant – as well as laddish holdalls repurposed as ladies’ handbags, the collection collided masc and femme archetypes with a wink and a nudge.
Since her Italian excursion, Rose has continued to take things up a gear. She united with Cali streetwear pioneers Stüssy for a joint capsule collection based on “the art of driving”. Designed for a life spent cruising in the fast lane, the two brands prepped and primed a bunch of goodies to give battered motors a facelift. Be it a fuzzy leopard-print steering wheel cover (Pat Butcher, eat your heart out) or co-branded air fresheners and car mats.
Selling out in a matter of minutes, the link-up followed a slew of stellar collaborations for Rose, who’s become one of the most important and sought-after names in Brit fashion. Her menswear collections, which come sexed-up, hyper-charged and brilliantly subversive, have caught the attention of everyone from Napapijri to Tommy Hilfiger, who recruited Rose to create a Tommy Jeans collection. Always on the hunt to find out how much she can get away with, the 35-look collection included everything from co-branded jockstraps through to denim chaps, as Rose raided the brand’s extensive archive, toying with traditional, Ivy League dressing.
Rose’s curiosity about how we dress, day to day, holds the power to paint normality in the most spectacular light. Spending this year working as Clarks’ first guest creative director, she would warp three signature shoe styles which have been at the core of the family-owned business for 200 years. Classic loafers and oxfords came fashioned in off-kilter formations, inspired by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm and his Convertible Fat Cars. On a mission to casualise the dress shoe, in Rose’s hands, Clarks’ go-tos were swollen and squidgy. “I’m so excited. It feels personal as I’ve worn Clarks all my life,” she said. Being British-Jamaican, Clarks’ prevalence within Rude Boy culture, while being a staple in English playgrounds and high streets, drew her in. “I’m proud to be working with a great model for how a family business can grow and maintain its values.”
The kicks would be unveiled as part of Rose’s SS24 show, held at community centre St Joseph’s Parish Centre in Highgate, not far from the designer’s studio in Crouch Hill. She’d been thinking a lot about hubs and working men’s clubs, like St. Joseph’s, which through the ’70s and ’80s would turn into makeshift dance floors for its community. “Young people co-opted community spaces and put on nights,” said the designer post-show. “Every wave of immigration that came through the UK has had a community centre that serviced them.”
As if stuck in a bygone decade, with a wood-panelled bar, red velvet curtains and stained carpets, guests sweatily huddled around pub tables, pints in hand, as Rose’s troupe sauntered in an explosive symphony of the brand’s signatures. Slouched trackies walked alongside punk-buckle jeans and swollen leather jackets that hunched forward; a displacement in volume borrowed from the driving stance of a motorcyclist. Lady-like florals now dressed up skimpy men’s tops and sleazy, glossy shirts came elongated like dresses.
“I love playing with gender lines,” says Rose. “I find men in women’s clothes sexy and I find women in men’s clothes very sexy.” She continued to pile on the kink factor of previous outings through greasy-looking shiny suits that sagged at the shoulders, inside-out skirts, men’s satin girdles and jeans gaffer-taped at the knee. A total collision of Rose’s go-to characters, one look saw hi-viz work trousers coupled with a camisole, as if the Martine Rose man headed straight from a hard day’s graft to a night of mischief at queer club night Adonis.
Beyond the clothes, the designer hoped the show would have a lasting effect. “When we arrived at the venue this morning, the owners said, ‘Maybe this will stop us from closing’,” she said at the time. “Community centres are vital, they’re a lifeline to people.”
It’s a testament to Rose, who’s always had one eye on the bigger picture. While her rise to become a glistening name in our industry has been nothing short of spectacular, it’s her devotion to the underground, the community that surrounds her and life lived on the fringes that make her work so vital.
Taken from Issue 58 of 10 Men – ELEGANCE, BEAUTY, GRACE – on newsstands now. Order your copy here.
MARTINE ROSE: ITALO DISCO
Photographer JIMI FRANKLIN
Fashion Editor CORNELIUS LAFAYETTE
Text PAUL TONER
Models CRANSTON MILLS and EFRON at Midland Agency, SHAUNA-LEE at Platformme Models, TERRENCE at Unite Unite, NICHO at Kollectiv Management
Hair CHIKA F.K. using Oribe
Make-up SENA MURAHASHI at MA + Group
Photographer’s assistant ANTHONY ROSADO
Fashion assistant BEYZA
Clothing throughout MARTINE ROSE AW23