Few designers are able to reinterpret the legacy of countercultural style into clothes that feel contemporary and cutting-edge with the same ingenuity as Martine Rose. But for her AW20 collection, the born-and-bred Londoner turned her gaze to a more unexpected corner of the city: her daughter’s primary school in Chalk Farm. Here, the collection is modelled by the school’s community as it reopens – while Martine talks homeschooling, rediscovering her home city under lockdown, and the optimism she feels for the next generation growing up in a world that feels forever changed.
What inspired you to do your AW20 show back in January at your daughter’s school in the first place, and why did now feel like an interesting time to revisit it as part of this project for REPLICA?
The reason that I wanted to do it at the school was because, first of all, it’s a fantastic school, and there’s a really strong community there. And really, unless you have kids, you don’t generally go into primary schools that much – a lot of people probably haven’t been in one since they were at primary school. They have such a particular atmosphere, it’s so optimistic and forward-looking, with this feeling of real promise. It’s also hilarious because everything’s sort of shrunken. You go to the toilet and it’s like sitting on a toadstool. Everything is so tiny! I just wanted to celebrate it really because I think It’s an incredible place. And then ironically, it became so relevant eight weeks later as schools all over the world closed and teachers emerged as frontline workers, essentially. They are so important and so undervalued. I tried to do homeschooling for a bit and I was shit, it’s really hard. You think in the abstract, oh yeah, I can do this, how hard can it be? But it is hard! And they do it with such grace and humour and patience. We started that conversation back in January, and then ironically it just became this very relevant, global conversation, and that doesn’t often happen.
What was the experience of doing the shoot like?
Honestly, it was so joyful. We wanted everyone involved: the dinner ladies, the nursery teachers, the headteacher, the music teacher, the teaching assistants. And everyone was so game and so up for it and so delighted to be a part of the project, they were such good sports. We laughed a lot, and I hope that comes across – it was just a lot of fun. And it was, you know ‘fun’ I just hope that it comes across as what it was. We laughed a lot. It was really fun!
How has the experience of lockdown been for you and your team more generally?
I mean, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for everyone, hasn’t it? Global tragedies aside, on a personal level, it’s been really nice to have the opportunity to wind down a little, and just be a bit more present, I guess. On a work level, one thing I didn’t realise is how agile we were, because we’re small enough, I guess, to have the ability to be reactive to stuff. It felt quite liberating, weirdly. I ended up having some of the most creative conversations that I’ve had in years, just because you’re constantly having to find solutions to problems, which is really the essence of creativity. It was terrifying at points, but in the end it was quite inspiring.
As someone who has lived in London all your life, and whose brand identity feels so embedded in the city’s culture, what was it like to experience its strange new energy during lockdown?
It’s funny, because I ended up just staying really local, as everyone did, it was like a little bubble. I consider myself a real Londoner in the sense that my family are in South London, I live in North London, my friends are often in East London, so I’m hopping around all the time. Staying in one location was really strange, but the benefit was I got to know my local area much better. I feel like that was quite a common feeling. I found myself being like, oh, I never knew this shop was here. I found all these local conveniences that I never knew existed, before because I’m always shooting around all over the place. The new energy was sort of like August or Christmas times ten. It was a London you only occasionally get glimpses of, but much more extreme? There was a real calmness that descended. I mean, when else would you find yourself paying attention to birdsong in London? I kind of liked it, actually.
What are your thoughts on the challenges facing young people – whether school students or recent graduates – as a result of the pandemic?
By nature, I’m a hopeful person, and I think that the next generation is a lot smarter than us. I’ve done lots of things as well with students who, very sadly, couldn’t graduate properly or couldn’t show their collections, taking part in tutorials and giving feedback. And I have to say that my overall feeling is like one of optimism. I’m like, the future is yours. I don’t want to sound flippant about the catastrophes that people have faced all over the world, so this is in no way to diminish that at all, but my feeling is that the future is theirs to reshape in a way, and we have been given the insight into the possibility of another way over the past few months. And that’s inspiring and exciting. We’re in a time of massive upheaval and change and they’re armed with more information than we had. They are more serious about finding new solutions to global problems, whether that’s sustainability in fashion, or social issues outside of that. I think the future is looking bright.