Sex, questionable taste and subculture have always wetted Martine Rose's appetite. Fans of the London brand and industry regulars will be familiar with the story of Rose and her cousins taking a perch on the local common with their nan every Sunday after church, where during the second 'Summer of Love' in 1989, they watched spontaneous day raves occur. The violent and typically racist football hooligans Rose had once been warned against, were now high on ecstasy and dancing with the kids coming back from Camden Palais and Raindance; 'with crusties, with all different people who the previous year they would have been punching'. At nine years old, Rose recognised the power of subculture.
'For me, football highlights the power of youth culture, it can change politics, it’s very powerful...That’s why all of my collections always feature that', she explains, having put her spin on football tropes for several seasons. On Sunday, Rose launched an interactive experience complete with a virtual Martine-ified football stadium telling the story behind the England fan shirt she recently designed with Nike. By a stroke of luck, the 2020 Euros also fell on the same day, as the whole country felt the ecstatic rush of pride in making the final during our very own summer of love. Then came the crushing, eclipsed reality of modern British society in 2021 in the aftermath of the loss to Italy. The racism towards England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka took us hurtling back to the terraces in the early 80s. Still, Rose refuses to be disillusioned by football's positive cultural impact. ‘Football is an amazing leveller. It can unite people. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.’
Rose is a self-confessed technophobe, and in-person runway shows have been central to her storytelling as the label, which she started in 2007. Inviting the fashion industry and sometimes the general public along, Rose has set her collections in a Kentish Town cul-de-sac, her child's school corridors and an indoor market in Seven Sisters. Finding an electrifying beauty in the mundane cross-sections of society, she has amassed a cult men's and women's following for her wonky shirts, tailoring and casual wear, also setting an industry standard for oversized, boxy silhouettes. Rose has equally embraced the good old fashion lookbook as a runway alternative, but a digital-only show? Never. Enter COVID-19.
In January 2021, the Martine Rose S/S 21 interactive experience the designer created with design studio International Magic, What We Do All Day, convinced her that they could tap into a digital world using technology 'to puncture a hole into real life stories'. Visitors peeped into the rooms of the global Martine Rose community, wearing the collection at home. By this time many were overly accustomed with their surrounding four walls as WFH became the norm. 'We managed to get the warmth and the wonkiness that you would get in a real life show', she comments. When it came to planning their latest show, it was a no brainer. 'We [had] discovered this language the first time and we didn’t feel ready to leave it.' The world they've built with International Magic provides a vehicle for Rose's messaging, now with football in the spotlight.
Behind it all, are the Lost Lionesses, the 14 English women who, 50 years ago, travelled to Mexico City to play football and on whom Rose based her recently released football fan shirt with Nike on. Inspired initially by how the football shirt has been worn inside out both on and off the pitch, whether that be as a form of protest on miner's strikes in England or for equal pay by Megan Rapinoe in the US, Rose's team member Shauni Douglas presented a deck featuring the Lost Lionesses who came back to England only to be banned from football. Martine Rose has always been about the outsiders, the wonderful weirdos. 'We were pretty confident that we weren’t the only ones who didn’t know who they were and what their story was. They were superstars.' Rose's shirt is double crested, reversible and genderless, combining her initials with the Lost Lionesses' crest from 1971, and England's three lions.
The Lost Lionesses is a virtual experience which builds upon last season's digital world. Now, instead of peeping in on the community, we're invited to watch a football game with some suitably Martine Rose twists. Here, the Lost Lionesses have a space to be heard, to be appreciated, and celebrated once more by a roaring crowd. Sports arena meets London estate in a communal space which will remain open indefinitely.
We enter the central atrium of the Brutalist-inspired block of flats from last time via an underground stadium tunnel. Transformed by London shop fronts, from newsagents to laundrettes, we're led through the space on a single camera path. Compiling 3D scans of London shops, graphics from the Martine Rose archive which provide an ample easter egg hunt for eagle eyed fans, and audio from players, the team wanted to bring the language of football into the Martine Rose universe. 'We weren't designing it specifically for this tournament, or for the Euros tournament. It was more about the celebration for the fans', says the space's creative director Adam Rodgers. 'We wanted to capture a little bit of that feeling of what it must have felt like for the Lionesses to walk out into the stadium,' he adds. The project's CG lead, Agnete Morrell, explains that 'we were really reimagining sport through Martine Rose's universe, creating a residential gender-free space.'
Visitors are then invited to a subterranean cinema screening of a film by Rosie Marks, gathered together to watch it just like you would any football match. Drum 'n' bass plays as drone cameras fly through office windows onto a host of characters decked out in Martine Rose A/W 21, including some of the Lost Lionesses who are playing a game of office footie, as you do, sharing orange slices at half time. Oh, and the ref was the first female referee of an English football league match. Whilst perhaps a subtle nod to Rose's humorous take on city slicker wardrobes with her broad shouldered tailoring, Marks points out that the setting references the corporate side of football which banned women from the game. She also shot the film on the old TV style of 4:3 with the digital screening in mind. 'It’s a football film, so I definitely wanted it to be quite imperfect at times.' Stylist Tamara Rothstein, who has known Rose since they were 18, notes how wise the Lost Lionesses are, and the energy they bring to the film - Rose tells me they're also going to speak to her children's school this week. One of the women, Chris, gifted a rare shirt to Rothstein's daughter, with some words of wisdom; 'Don’t let anyone box you, just do what you want and be who you want to be in life and don’t let anyone ever stop you from being that.'
Rothstein wasn't fazed by the audience experiencing the collection in a digital or filmed format. 'It’s similar to styling a show. When clothes move, it's beautiful.' Filming everything in one day, Rothstein prepped the looks before. 'With the two of us working, it’s always a good surprise, there’s no ownership with the styling, we try things together we do it together', she explains of her and Rose's working relationship. A cast of models wear the A/W 21 collection, whilst the Lost Lionesses wear the Martine Rose x Nike football shirt. 'We didn’t want to make them feel awkward in fashion. It was about making them feel comfortable, youthful. When you give them a ball, their body language becomes youthful and tactile’, Rothstein explains of the choice not to dress them in the main collection.
A cast of models are dressed in a crushed box shouldered suit, red leather and denim chaps with Rose's asymmetrical, boxy blazers, velour and faux snakeskin materials are purposefully naff, looks are finished with signature backless loafers. 'We wanted something more than just football, and putting them in loafers, they just were a bit more awkward’, Rothstein says of the cast playing football in Martine Rose clobber. It was also meant to be done with that twisted dark humour inherent to Rose's work. 'Five minutes in, everyone’s just playing football. Eyes go on the ball, and that’s the focus. Everybody almost forgot the outfit they were in. You forget everything, your age, your physical ability, who you’re playing with', Rothstein explains.
What shines throughout The Lost Lionesses is the love Rose and her team feel for one another and those encompassed in the world she has built, both IRL and URL. 'It’s really nice to work with a group of people who still want to achieve great standards but don’t think they have to be an arsehole to get there', Rothstein tells me. Rose has knack for capturing the current moment, whether she means to or not. Does she feel like the project has been tarnished by the atmosphere created by the racists online?
‘It hasn’t made me feel disillusioned about football itself. It’s just made me fucking confused. We were in this amazing bubble [watching the game], with all different types of people. Regardless of the result we were so proud of them [the England team], they’ve done so well. Then you wake up the next day, and it’s like being transported back to being eight or nine years old. Where we were last night? Where are these people from? I really can’t articulate my rage and disappointment and deep, deep fucking sadness that nothing has fucking changed. And that the FA and all these fuckers who are making money are putting out pointless statements that don't change anything. The government are putting out wet, limp statements about racism and aren’t actually doing anything about it. It’s enraging.'
One thing this project makes clear, is that whoever you are, football is yours. Those who say otherwise, aren't really fans at all.
Shop the Martine Rose x Nike x Lost Lionesses shirt and cap here.