At the cusp of the early 1990s, London was a very different place. Gritty. Abandoned buildings were parts of the cityscape. It was grey and worn down by a decade of Thatcherism. Yet, underneath, there was also an exceptional sub-cultural effervescence sprouting up in the city. Soul boys, acid house, the afro-centric sound system culture spilling into parties at the Africa Centre, These New Puritans and a new emerging queerness. This sense of underground innovation continued throughout the decade with the jungle and garage scenes. Music, fashion, clubs, drugs and magazines—everything was in flux. It is this background that influenced a very young Martine Rose, who went to her grandma’s house and watched her siblings and cousins get ready for raves and parties. It is this authentic, pre-Internet, naturally formed subcultural moment that helped inspire her to become a designer who is defining the direction of contemporary menswear.
For a fashion designer at the top of her game, Martine is surprisingly down to earth. In fact, her innate authenticity is part of what has made her so attractive to her fans, which include Demna Gvasalia and Virgil Abloh. Rose likes things big. She creates wide, oversized shapes: very baggy trousers, extra fat trainers, bulky Patrick Cox-inspired loafers. When she first started pioneering that sense of proportion in menswear, people were skeptical; today, it has become the silhouette of modern streetwear. “It’s the balance that feels a bit off that I’m always really interested in. Like when something isn’t quite fitting,” Rose says. “If you hate it, it’s fine. I think when you feel indifferent towards something, it’s a bit dangerous. I feel you have to be pushing things, and sometimes the result can be awkward.”