07 Dec Interview: Martine Rose / Dazed winter 2018 issue
Martine Rose is probably the best designer in the world. At least, that’s what she likes to write across her t-shirts. “It’s good to poke fun at yourself,” she says, sitting in her studio in north London. “If you have a sense of humour, you can get away with a hell of a lot more.”
Rose’s innate eye for countercultural history has always conjured an eclectic world: lads in footie shirts lounging on sofas surrounded by rave flyers, city slickers marching to work in oversized power suits, or waifish boys straight out of a James Bidgood queer fantasia. But her new collaboration with Nike has presented a whole new paradigm of masculinity to pick apart: basketball players. “I became obsessed,” she says. “Athletes in general develop really interesting proportions, but basketballers have that superhuman scale. It’s so odd when you see them in civilian clothes.” Digging through the Nike archives, Rose tried XXL basketball gear on for size and translated the bulky shapes into tracksuits, while moulds of athletes’ warped feet inspired a range of glossy, bulging, almost-extraterrestrial sneakers.
With her sideways take on menswear – clashing cultures and stretching sizes to extreme proportions – the designer has created a space in which she can continue to surprise. She may be the best designer in the world, but she is also, frequently, the first. She was (probably) the first to stage a show in a cul-de-sac in Camden, and certainly the first to put a runway in the middle of a climbing centre. In keeping with her spirit of spontaneity, here, Rose reveals the firsts that have shaped her work, and continue to power her truly unpredictable creativity. To paraphrase another great British eccentric: does Martine remember the first time?
Who was your first childhood love?
Martine Rose: I remember being ten years old and obsessed with my cousin’s husband’s cousin – it sounds weird, I know, but we weren’t actually related. His mum was friends with Neneh Cherry, and there’s a picture of me at his house with Neneh; she was about 19 at the time and totally gorgeous. His name was Shallah – his mum was a rasta so he and all his siblings were named after the tribes of Israel. It was my first kiss but I didn’t know what to do, so I just blew into his mouth. He must have thought, ‘What the hell is this?’
What was your first job?
Martine Rose: It was fucking awful: I sold cruises to pensioners. It was like The Office, with that same feeling of intense claustrophobia and mild depression. I used to show up to the industrial estate wearing combat trousers, Buffalo boots and whatever nuts top I was into at the time – obviously, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I used to phone up and say, ‘Can I speak to Fred, please?’ Then they’d reply, ‘Fred died last week,’ and I would have to respond, ‘OK, would you be interested in going to Bermuda?’ I was saving up to go on a kibbutz, so I just had to focus on that. It was grim.
Was there a specific moment where you remember falling in love with fashion?
Martine Rose: It was always in the context of music. My cousin, Darren, would go to Camden Palace on Saturday night, then on Sunday everyone would congregate on Clapham Common nursing their comedowns. It was like a little carnival every week, but because it was in a park I could go. I ended up being at this bizarre day rave where everyone was still off their faces – I must have been about nine, but weirdly my cousin didn’t mind me hanging around and my nan actually used to take me. She would sit down on a blanket and watch everyone, then I would toddle off with my cousin and dance. I remember this guy who was definitely… altered, shall we say. He was just wearing a crazy look, rave gear – this patterned baggy tee and tracksuit bottoms, vaguely hippie. His hair was knotted up and he had these gold teeth. I thought he looked so impressive. It wasn’t a eureka fashion moment, but it certainly grabbed my attention.