A Sticky Weekend

Ethan Price reflects on Martine Rose’s inherently political and celebratory SS24, at a time of national turmoil

A heatwave – it’s dangerous but sexy. Perfect weather for the Martine Rose man. Fitting, also, that this Spring-Summer 2024 collection from Rose feels like both a celebration and a warning. Two states of feeling that rarely collide but are absolutely encapsulating and engulfing the present moment. Everyone seems both terrified and hedonistically jubilant at once right now. We don’t know what’s around the corner, but the adrenaline that the fear is producing has to be burnt off – and so we party, and so we dance and shriek with laughter. This feels like the most scary and most incredible time to be alive. It seems Rose feels this. Maybe she always has – her continual reference to peripheral subcultures and the music that keeps them out all night attests to this – and the brand has been gradually building alongside this maniacal state we’re currently tight-rope-walking through. Things are uneasy. One model wears a perfect pulling-at-the-club outfit: a hairy-chest-revealing skin-tight black top, the zipper neckline undone, strings of pearls, distressed brown leather trousers with multiple buckles running up the calf, some mock-croc loafers. But, then – the violent yellow of a hi vis safety jacket. The collar is popped, and the shoulder seam is dropped, it swings suggestively – come here, but also don’t touch, all collisions avoided. It is a look that reverberates with this maddening desire to be joyful amidst the difficulties Britain is facing. I want to have fun, I want to be sweaty, to have sex, to feel free, but I’m also so scared, I need security. We’re all on the verge of falling.

What is this SS24 collection doing during a British heatwave? It’s playing pool at the boozer and hanging out in the corner where the security camera’s blindspot is, and none of the balls are getting potted because it’s had too many lagers. It’s trying to see itself in the mirror of the gents, but everything is hazy and the stench of bleach and urinals makes its eyes blur even more. It’s delighting in these things – in knowing that it’s the sweat underneath the perfume that makes people want it. That the point of clothes is to make others want to strip them off. This feels fundamental to our current state in London, where so much of the humanity and the reality of the city is being removed or covered up by a façade of purity. A larger meditation on London itself is what Rose always achieves with her collections. And London as a microcosm for the world and western society overall. As always, Rose ricochets through touchstones of British culture in this SS24 collection, here focusing on the 1970s and 80s, and with it attempts to form an attack on the immaculate that is in turn attacking this South-Londoner’s city.

Gaffer-taped knees. T-shirts reading “BLOW YOUR MIND.” A stand-out yellow leather jacket pierced all over with ring-pulls from tinnies, beer bottle tops, safety pins and badges, one reading “lend us a quid.” A preview of two styles (an Oxford and a heeled loafer) from the collection Coming Up Roses by Martine Rose for Clarks from her role as guest creative director of Clarks. And, as always with Rose, there is subversion. Men’s blue checked boxer shorts layered over short tights with unhooked suspenders and knee-high socks. One model was a rumination on the everyman: half sleazy office worker, with open black blazer, half construction worker with hi vis trousers, but styled with this was a smattering of perversion, of life after the nine to five – the shirt is silken, unbuttoned, perhaps a tie has been removed, and over the top of this was a women’s girdle and suspenders. A single, simple accessory – a metallic matchstick as an earring. An outfit that caters to every scenario in this man’s life. Post-work, he lights a cigarette at the club and is ready for the boudoir with whoever he finds in the smoking area. The Martine Rose man is sexy. He’s that bloke that you wish you didn’t find sexy, but you can’t help it. So just give in. He probably parties too much, smokes too much, never answers a call except around 1am. A geezer – perfect, really.

Rose has the habit of showing in the most unassuming of venues: a cul-de-sac in Camden, Torriano Primary School (which her daughter attends), a community climbing gym, Seven Sisters indoor market. Her previous London show was held in the now closed gay sauna, Chariots in Vauxhall, and with her SS24 show, held in St Joseph’s Parish Community Centre, her venue choices are feeling political. She highlights the importance of these spaces for the communities that use them. Chariots became a victim of the continued erasure of pivotal sites of community and togetherness that has been ransacking our culture in recent years, but there is a hope here that showing at her local community centre could potentially save it from closure. It shouldn’t be like this. There should be no need to hold a glamorous occasion at a venue in order for it to be seen as worthy of being allowed to continue operating. The people that run and work at the venue and those that attend are more than enough. But what with the recent news that beloved basement bar Trisha’s in Soho could potentially be closed down due to a millionaire neighbour’s noise complaints, it seems it’s only by showing how vital these places are through somehow attaching them to capitalist productivity that there is any chance of gaining attention from the local council or government.

Rose’s shows have become so integral to how we see fashion in London, and much like the environments in which her shows take place, they create an atmosphere in which we can define ourselves. After feeling lost and confused about who we are as Londoners or as British people – and maybe even balking at the connotations that those terms can create – Rose’s shows remind us joyfully who that is. Amid the slickness and polish, there is the dirt – and that dodginess is good. Rose tells us that what we are is an eccentric amalgamation of different cultures honed and sieved through a very British vision and sensibility. In the casting, as always, Rose celebrates the bizarre lot that make up our island with a consistently inconsistent group of characters on the runway. A zhuzhed up version of a bunch of regulars at almost any London boozer. Rose has said: “I really miss working in a bar. People who would look so unassuming but would be wildly radical, eccentric, interesting people would come in. People are extraordinary.” This connection with, and championing of the mundane has run through Rose’s line since its inception in 2007. She makes the local universal. There is revolution in the ordinary.