With nearly two centuries of influence in the UK’s fashion scene, Clarks has captured countless hearts. It’s no wonder Martine Rose, the British-Jamaican fashion designer renowned for her homage to everyday UK style, was chosen as guest creative director.
Introducing the Martine Rose x Clarks footwear capsule: Coming Up Roses collection. This inaugural collaboration seamlessly integrates Rose’s distinctive design approach while paying homage to Clarks’ legendary silhouettes. From classic Oxford brogues to heeled loafers, each piece is adorned with Rose’s signature snakeskin print in vibrant shades of pink, brown, and green, complemented by bold, puffer-like exteriors. The collection also features everyday sandals and a reimagined version of Clarks’s Thornhill Hi.
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Story starts here
Since the inception of her eponymous brand in 2007, British-Jamaican fashion designer Martine Rose has always referenced her lived experiences in the UK. Having grown up in Croydon, Rose spent much of her adolescence in the company of her grandparents, who migrated from Jamaica in the ’50s. London is a fashion zeitgeist full of buzzy, young designers, most of whom eventually disappear from the scene. What, then, gives Rose such longevity in a landscape obsessed with newness? From music subcultures to the sartorial leanings of her Jamaican family, she has merged her diasporic culture with London’s melting pot of different tribes and archetypes.
She displays this essence by using familiar style codes and adding twists to silhouettes, proportions and prints. Fans of Rose’s work attach themselves to her intimate and creative recounting of reality, celebrating the beauty in the mundane. Her brand’s cult status garnered attention from others in the industry. From 2016 to 2018, Rose was hired by Demna to be a consultant on Balenciaga’s menswear, effectively forming a sartorial code for the house that is still seen today. Most recently, she was crowned best British menswear designer by the British Fashion Council at the 2023 Fashion Awards.
While Rose focuses on menswear, women are frequently seen on the runways of her shows. Besides a polished and thoughtfully restrained streetwear sensibility, her designs carry a sense of powerful androgyny. Women who wear Martine Rose feel strength by donning Rose’s exemplified versions of traditionally masculine wear because it subverts the notion that such normative forms of masculinity should not be touched or altered. During her spring/summer 2024 show in a community hall in North London, Rose debuted footwear in collaboration with British shoemaker Clarks.
She utilised three of Clarks signature models and added spins on them by altering their silhouettes. She added extra padding to the exteriors of the women’s loafer, sandal and classic Oxford shoes, creating a blown-out, puffer-like appearance that gave all three shoes texture and her iconic touch of quirkiness. Available in her signature snakeskin print as well as palettes of sage green, burgundy, brown and black, these shoes will be released in March to mark the start of her tenure as Clarks’s guest creative director for the rest of the year.
Here, editor-in-chief Desmond Lim speaks to Rose about her design ethos when it comes to footwear, her collaboration with Clarks and more.
Your first collaboration was in 2011 with Timberland. Since then, you’ve created iconic footwear such as the Nike Shox. Can you tell us how you approach designing a pair of shoes?
I find this question really interesting. I approach this similarly to designing a ready-to-wear collection, aiming for a sense of familiarity. For instance, I explore styles like the Oxford women’s loafer and sandals from the Clarks archive and collections, choosing those that have been part of their line-up for decades. I appreciate the familiarity and while I maintain that, I also introduce subtle twists to make it feel both familiar and unique.
If you had to pick between Oxfords, loafers, boots or derbies, which would you go for and why?
Loafers. In the UK, they have a cultural significance. There’s also something subversive about them. Trainers might be the obvious go-to since they are a big part of youth culture now but I feel that it’s more subversive and interesting to play with loafers. There are so many different archetypes that you can associate them with. They can be young, smart or casual depending on the wearer and of course, the design.
“It’s the first time I’ve collaborated with a brand that has been a part of British culture for close to 200 years.”
How is this partnership with Clarks different from your earlier collaborations?
Clarks has been embedded in English culture for 200 years. It’s the first time I’ve collaborated with a brand that has been a big part of life in the UK. When a child gets their first pair of shoes, they go to Clarks to get their feet measured. It’s also embedded in Jamaican culture differently and it’s a real joy that we have this commonality. These two things for me feel reconciled in an understanding of a collection that we can relate to.
What’s a great design when you’re working on a pair of shoes?
What I enjoy is when it is at the edge of what seems acceptable at the time. So when we were designing the Shox for example, we wanted to go with the right height so that you can see that it’s different, but that a man could still wear it and not feel silly. How far can we push it so that someone can still wear it, feel fashionable and not cross the line? It’s about that sweet spot between being okay and going too far.
Is that what you had in mind when you incorporated a padded silhouette with your Clarks designs?
Absolutely. I thought about how we could approach this soft spongy cushion and keep it at the right balance.
I like how you thought about comfort first.
When I first met with Clarks and they were walking me through their collections, we went to their showroom. They shared that what people love about Clarks is the comfort. This is so important to us and also what I love. When children get their first shoes at Clarks, it’s because parents trust that they are good for their feet, offering comfort and reliability. So yeah, I went to play with that.
It’s interesting that you also introduced snakeskin prints in this collection. Given the contrast, what’s the intended message?
I use snakeskin in my collections because of that subversive messaging. Snakeskin is a bit sexy and I like the contrast of having a spongy silhouette and then adding this sensual element. The tension between the two was perfect and the print also connected it back to my work.
The next question is about revival. Were there any forgotten labels from the ’90s, like Buffalos, or from the ’80s, like LA Gear, that you’d like to bring back? Is there a particular label or style you think could be a defining moment for Martine Rose?
There was this shoe shop called Shellys and every person under 30 went there to get their shoes. They had the coolest, weirdest, most amazing shoes.
“I love it when people feel free to express themselves in whichever way is right for them. If a man feels his best self in a pair of stilettos, then I’m 100 percent behind it.”
Where do you envision Martine Rose as a brand this year? Additionally, what are your thoughts on the direction men’s shoes will take in 2024?
I’m not much of a planner. Lots of designers have a five-year plan but I am instinctive. So if I like where I am, who I’m working with and how the collections feel, I am optimistic about the future. As for men’s footwear and what’s up and coming, I see a shift towards smarter shoes away from trainers. People are getting more into loafers, boots and derbies.
One of the trends we’ve seen is men wearing stilettos. What do you think?
It’s fabulous. I love it when people feel free to express themselves in whichever way is right for them. If a man feels his best self in a pair of stilettos, then I’m 100 percent behind it.
What’s your advice for an aspiring artist trying to be a designer?
Social media has broken down the hierarchy a bit. Once you decide you want to be a designer, there’s a period of exploration that you need to go through to mature as one. When I was in college, I tried to design gothic dresses and over-the-top pieces. There’s this whole period of play that I think is important. And it almost gets reduced nowadays because of social media and the speed of output that it demands. That important period of personal growth, finding out who you are and feeling confident enough to make mistakes, is part of developing yourself as a designer. I want to encourage designers to take their time and not be scared of it. I only stopped working in a bar when I was in my mid-30s. There’s value in taking your time and figuring out who you are and growing as a person and as a designer. And make mistakes, it’s fine. You’re a better designer for it.
The Jan/Feb ‘Intentions’ issue of Vogue Singapore is available for sale online and in-store from 11 January 2024.