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The Wardrobe with Martine Rose

“This jacket is huge!” Martine says approvingly of her leather cover-up from Autumn/Winter 2015–16, a collaboration with BEEN TRILL. She’s always liked capacious clothing. Her degree collection was “very sculptural, oversized. Nothing body-conscious.” Underneath, she wears vintage ADIDAS track pants and a BALENCIAGA men’s Spring/Summer 2018 T-shirt with the slogan “Think Big!” “Very apt,” she says, eight and a half months into her second pregnancy. The trainers are by NIKE.

The soft, slightly slumping tailored jacket is from Martine’s S/S ‘18 collection, which was shown at the Stronghold Climbing Centre in Tottenham Hale, London. As usual, the soundtrack was of paramount importance. “I told my friend Sasha [Crnobrnja] of In Flagranti, who did the music, that I wanted synthy, dad music. I wanted it to feel slightly Phil Collins-y.” Martine’s badge, from A/W ‘17, is in imitation of the kind that might be given out at a conference, she says. The black cotton T-shirt is from MARTINE ROSE A/W ‘16.

The handwritten Martine Rose label was introduced in S/S ‘14. “If only it was my own handwriting — mine is atrocious. The logo is a Frankenstein version of a beautiful name label sewn into a vintage army piece I found on Portobello Road. This is my interpretation.” Martine still likes Portobello Market, but only on a Friday morning. “It’s the one part of London that isn’t changing — Golborne Road, Goldhawk Road.”

“Girls like the wide-legged styles. Some fold from a 60-inch waist into a 30-inch — those accommodate bottoms and hips.”

“This fits over the bump perfectly.” Martine wears a T-shirt with a decorative “cock ring” from her A/W ‘16 collection, and ADIDAS track pants. “I think it’s absolutely rubbish,” she says of the idea that there are clothes for different times of the year. “I remember people saying, ‘Ooh, a bomber jacket in spring!’ I don’t understand the idea of a winter wardrobe and a summer one. Who can afford that? And who wears pastels in summer and black in the winter?” Not Martine. Here and on page 242, the trainers are by NIKE.

“I hate to use the term ‘unisex’. Girls have always worn my clothes, and they do like the wide-legged styles, which I find amazing,” Martine says. This heavy-weight satin shirt is from A/W ’17, a collection partly informed by the flamboyant Congolese sapeurs, who spend the little money they have entirely on flashy Italian labels. “It’s about showing off — an attitude of ‘I’m going to show you all I have.’” The bleached denim jeans are ruched on an internal waistband, completing a matchy look Martine thinks is more “going out”.

It’s improbably pretty, but Martine Rose is her real name — and she still can’t get used to seeing it in print, as on this jumper from A/W ’16. “I find it strange, people walking around with my name on their chests. I can’t separate myself from it. I don’t find it easy to wear these pieces.” Recently she wore one of her own logo T-shirts to buy a coffee, though, and had to endure the incredulity of the barista to whom she’d given her name. S<

When Martine Rose, 37, started her company in 2007, menswear was a sea of preppy suits with dandyish pocket squares. Fast-forward a decade and she’s coaxed the fashion world into her marvellously voluminous trousers, the hit of her joyfully utilitarian collections. Taking the best from 1980s and ’90s subcultures with a dash of Uncool Dad mixed in, Martine is setting new standards through her own-name brand and the Balenciaga men’s line for which she consults. And with the introduction of female models on her catwalk this season, women’s fashion can look forward to equally broad horizons.

“There are a few reasons I got into fashion, but Michelle was one of them,” says Martine Rose of her much older sister, with whom she grew up in south London. “She took me everywhere when she was a teenager and I was a baby. It was like having a younger, cooler mum.” This was the 1980s and Michelle Rose, a fan of reggae and lovers rock, wore Hamnett, Gaultier and “amazing Pam Hogg dresses in really bright colours with funny puffed sleeves”. Martine also idolised her cousin Darren, whose uniform was Boy London. “He was into acid house, the whole ’89 rave scene. I just wanted access to that world. But it wasn’t until much later that I identified it.” By “it”, Martine means the instantly recognisable dress codes of a style tribe.

Over the past decade, as Martine Rose has become the toast of the London fashion industry, those same tribes – plus punk DIY, ravers and ’90s bike couriers – have influenced her designs. But she doesn’t simply cut and paste references. The extreme silhouettes of Martine’s signature pieces, like the supersized trousers and her hunchbacked tailored jackets, come from an interest in proportion play that began when she did her foundation year at Camberwell College of Arts. Then there’s her fascination with commonplace characters and the real-life dressing she sees on the street. Martine’s repetitive use of logos, sporty outerwear and tweaked tailoring is drawn from her preoccupation with Everyman types, who might be City bankers but lately are more often “dad-y” types, as she puts it. On proud display in her studio in Tottenham, north London, are news photos of Jeff Goldblum and Jeremy Corbyn in cargo shorts and pulled-up sports socks. An image of the latter plus bicycle made it onto her Spring/Summer 2018 show invitation. “Jeremy’s a human being,” she says. “I do think he’ll be prime minister, though I don’t for one second think he’ll get it all right.”

The non-specific type of menswear these “dads” inspire is so appealing that, for many seasons, women have been buying and wearing it too. Leaning against a rail of clothes from the S/S 2018 collection, dressed in a vintage T-shirt and Adidas track pants, curly hair piled on top of her head, Martine herself is like the cheerful sister anyone would wish to have – relaxed, dry-witted and calm, despite her mounting responsibilities. She’s pregnant and due any moment (her first child, a daughter, is two); she’s in the middle of applying for two major fashion prizes, awarded by Andam and LVMH; and most pressingly, she has orders to produce from the latest, roundly admired autumn collection, “which we’ve been scrabbling to meet,” she admits.

As if that weren’t enough, Martine is also acting as a consulting designer for the Balenciaga menswear collections at the invitation of the brand’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia. The pair met in Paris for the first time more than a year ago. “I’m a very informal person,” Martine says, as we find a table in the cafe of Tottenham’s Bernie Grant Arts Centre. Demna asked Martine if she would be part of his plan to reinvigorate Balenciaga’s menswear. She agreed, she says, because the two designers “got on really well. For me, it was the fact that I really, really liked him. Also, I’m Georgian Orthodox, too. I had to convert when I was asked to be godmother to the daughter of a Georgian friend. I went there on holiday last summer. Anyway, Demna found that whole thing insane.”

Balenciaga is her first proper job, she says, and it’s been a long, almost entirely self-funded journey here from art school and then fashion college at Middlesex University. In between, there was a small T-shirt brand, LMNOP, run with Tamara Rothstein – now her stylist – followed by shows supported by Fashion East and NewGen, and then solo presentations in London. In the early days, Martine also worked shifts at Blacks members’ club in Soho. “Ten years is a long time to keep chipping away at something before it becomes commercial, but that wasn’t really what interested me about fashion. I’ve never been a businessperson, thinking of what people are going to buy.”

Despite her dedication to work, Martine’s personal life hasn’t suffered. She describes big, frequent gatherings of family and friends, “always with billions of kids”, held across south London or at her home in Bethnal Green, east London. Her parents – her mother, Sonia, is a former nurse and her father, Clifford, an accountant, and at one time a Black Panther – have always supported her unquestioningly, as has her partner, a plasterer, whom she met, in a true coup de foudre, outside the LMNOP studio 13 years ago. “The building had scaffolding on it, and he shouted down at me. Something really irritating. I was in a stinking mood that day, and I remember thinking, Ugh, fuck off. Then I looked up and saw that he was quite fit. I was trying to get a big roll of pattern paper into the car, and he swung down from the scaffolding to help me. I was a little bit impressed by that.” He’s audacious, then – enough to wear her clothes?

Martine thinks for a second. “Not the wild pieces,” she says. “Not the triple-waistband trousers. But the tamer pieces, yes.”