Martine Rose, fashion designer, on her smiley face T shirt

GB Tell me why you chose your T shirt.

MR I guess it’s a beautiful thing for me on loads of levels. Physically, I find it really beautiful. When people talk about luxury fashion, this defines luxury for me. I’ve had it since I was nine years old.  It’s been washed thousands and thousands of times and it’s imbued with so much emotion and wear, that I find it’s become this fragile, delicate, amazing thing, something that you can never buy off the peg. So, for me that is the definition of luxury. 

GB Was it something you really wanted at the time? Did you beg to have a smiley face T shirt? Or was it just something you had, and it’s become more beautiful because of the memories?

MR Well, exactly. It’s so like fragile and thin and washed and lovely. To me, that feels like luxury. And then the second reason that it’s luxury to me is because it’s this emotional thing. I grew up in a big extended family and I was one of the youngest of lots of cousins. In 1989 I was nine years old, and my older sister was into reggae and rare groove and all that sort of stuff. And then my older cousin, Darren, was really into the rave scene. I used to sit at my Nan’s house which was a big central hub where everyone gathered on a Saturday night and I used to watch them get ready to go out to their respective places and I just knew that I wanted access to all that. I would find it fascinating to watch them get dressed and Darren was obsessed with Boy London. For my 40th he gave me a pair of the Boy London boxer shorts that he used to have.

It felt important. Even at nine years old there was a magnetic pull to that scene. I was really drawn to what I was witnessing which was a youth thing. Funny thing was, Darren used to go to Raindance and Camden Palais on a Saturday night and come back Sunday. We used to go to church, so we’d stay at my Nan’s and when they all came back from whatever raves they’d gone to, they used to congregate on Clapham Common. It became an informal day rave. They’d have car doors open and be dancing to music, but because it was in the daytime, I could go.

GB Your Nan must be very cool.

MR She’d take us down there and we’d sit on the Common on a little rug. From my nine-year-old perspective, it was completely magical, and I used to just go off and dance with Darren and he was 19 and I was nine and we had this unusual bond. He gave me this T shirt and I knew that it it was more than a T shirt and it was like a code, it represented something. It’s still undefinable but I knew it was special.

GB I feel sorry for teenagers now because they don’t have the equivalent of that. It’s never really happened again.

MR Exactly. One of the reasons that I always reference football in my collections is because before that period, if we saw people in football shirts walking around, we were told to cross the road. Then the summer of ‘89 came along and football hooliganism basically died overnight. That’s the power of E and the power of youth culture.

GB How does beauty come into your work? I suppose beauty in fashion is a slightly different thing. because you’re creating something new that hasn’t got all these associations that your T shirt has.

MR It’s hard. A lot of my collections are to do with memory and speak about something else, I guess. It’s difficult to put into words. I mean, it’s difficult to speak about beauty in a tangible way often. It’s like smoke.

GB Fashion plays such crazy tricks on us. You’ll see something sort of ugly-beautiful like Margiela Tabi boots and eventually you’ll end up finding them beautiful because you’re so used to them.

MR That’s true and I do really enjoy that tension also. And that’s exactly why it’s hard to define. I mean, the square toed mule loafers that we did were not guaranteed to be a commercial hit but they were.

GB Do you think that things made by humans can be as beautiful as things in nature? I’m always surprised that nobody ever chosen a rainbow.

MR That reminds me of something that my daughter said to me once. I said, “What do you think a rainbow tastes like?” And she thought about it for a while and she said, “Lamb.”

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

MR I think it’s care and love and it’s the same reason I find the T shirt beautiful with the focus, the love, the care. That feels like beauty to me.

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