Martine Rose on designing a new England shirt
Get your first look at “The Lost Lionesses” shirt, as designer Martine Rose kicks off our summer sport special.
Words: Matthew Whitehouse
Photography: Rosie Marks
Styling: Tamara Rothstein
Casting: Isabelle Bush
Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Order your copy here.
When it comes to designing an England shirt, there’s no one better placed than MARTINE ROSE. Since launching her eponymous label in 2007, the London designer has cultivated a world around communities, tribes and subcultures. One that explores the freedom that comes with being a fan. Her Nike x Martine Rose “The Lost Lionesses” Shirt is no different. A genderless shirt inspired by the fearless England women’s team of 1971 – you can read about them below – it’s a subversive take on a recognised icon. Featuring the England crest on one side and a Martine Rose crest, inspired by the 1971 badge, on the other, it’s a fully reversible, fully-freaking-convertible supporters’ shirt that’s out in July, just in time to bask in England’s inevitable Euros glory (don’t quote us on that). You’re getting a first look here in THE FACE, alongside an all-star cast of athletes, artists, and Martine’s friends and family that represent a unified England NOW. So, as Ron Manager once said: grab your jumpers for goalposts. This is free expression. Theory out the window. Uncategorisable. Is that a word? It is now!
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Martine – where do you begin with a project like this? Do you start with a blank shirt and add components? Or do you start with a pre-existing England shirt and deconstruct it?
It’s the same process that I apply to all of my designs. I like to work with things that exist already and subvert them, in a way. I like when things are recognisable, or have a sense of familiarity about them, but you’re looking at it through a funhouse mirror or something. So it’s always starting with what it actually is, the actual thing, and then subverting it.
In terms of the process, it was the England shirt, do you know what I mean? That was it. So we knew we were going to start there, then we started doing our research alongside, and that’s how we built the narrative of what we were going to actually do to the shirt.
Some of the stories that we want to tell – how can we tell them through a shirt? It’s one of the reasons why I like menswear: there are rules. That’s the thing when you’re working with something as iconic, well-known, huge and epic as an England shirt: it’s the rules. It’s fun to push against those rules. It’s fun to see how far you can take it until it doesn’t become an England shirt anymore. I mean, as a person I don’t like rules. But I like rules to work in.
You mentioned research. Where did that start for you and what did it entail?
We started with the [current] England shirt. On one side we had that but then, on the other side, my interest in football is not necessarily the game itself. My interest in football is the culture around it. The cultural impact of football is always my angle. We started with how the shirt is worn, looking at when players celebrate and how they put it over their heads. People started to use that to protest so they would wear tops underneath and then pull their shirts up. It became a celebration then a form of protest or messaging, which was really interesting. Then that [political messaging] was banned. There was one footballer back in the day who was talking about strikers [Robbie Fowler’s 1997 “doCKers” shirt in support of sacked Liverpool dockworkers]. Then a female footballer in America [Megan Rapinoe] led the US team to wear their shirts inside out to protest about unequal pay between men and women. It was through these stories that it became richer and richer and richer, and that’s how we found the stories of the Lionesses. It was actually through the research of how people wear football shirts and then that became the narrative.
And that was the reversible aspect of it, too?
Exactly. It’s just telling the story of these women.
How important was it to have Chris Lockwood and Janice Emms come down and be part of this feature?
They’re essential. They are the story. Of course, we can project all of our ideas of what the story was and what it meant, and how impactful it was, but it’s not until you meet these women: it is the anecdotes. It’s all of those things that bring the story to life, which you can’t read about, the stuff that they don’t have in any text. You can read the story about the Lionesses – but, for example, Chris told me this amazing anecdote yesterday.
She said it was a couple of years after jumbo jets started flying commercially, in 1971, and none of the team had ever flown before, of course. They landed in Mexico City, came off the flight and down the steps of the plane, and on the concourse were hundreds of photographers, flashing away, and she whispered to Janice: “Was someone famous on this plane?” Having absolutely no idea that they were there for them! It’s those stories… And that just came out while we were making a cup of tea, I wasn’t asking any questions. It was just an anecdote. It’s the warmth.
Thinking about your casting, generally, and the world that you’ve cultivated through that: is there a particular characteristic you look for? Or is it just a feeling?
Where do you even start? It’s so big and broad. It’s a sense that you have about people. It’s so much more than how they look, obviously. It’s like an authenticity, a conviction. I don’t really know how to put it without sounding naff. It’s not something you articulate all the time, it’s just something that happens and evolves. I guess through lots and lots of conversations.
And lots of us, we’ve worked together for a long time as well, [casting director] Izzy [Bush] and [stylist] Tam [Rothstein]. There is just something that we don’t have to articulate anymore because it’s just understood. It’s like this is the spirit of someone, and that’s it.
Is there something that you want people to take away from your casting?
Yeah. The last show [AW21] – particularly because I was using technology and I’m not a real technology sort of person – I really wanted people to feel a sense of warmth when they finished. Obviously it was in the middle of a lockdown, people were feeling particularly isolated, and they’ve been struggling, or not, with all different types of things. So I wanted a sense of an occasion and I wanted people to show up at the same time, so you had a sense that you were watching with lots of others.
That’s really important when I have physical shows as well. When I’ve done it in the [Seven Sisters] market, or the cul-de-sac [in Kentish Town] or in the school [also in Kentish Town, which Martine’s daughter attends], I like inviting other people into the space, so it feels like a collective.
I did say distinctly that I wanted everyone to leave the last show with a sense that people are wonderful. That in all their various idiosyncrasies, you think: “Oh, people are great.” Because they are great. I want them to feel a connection.
There’s a section in fashion writer and FACE contributor Lauren Cochrane’s new book, The Ten, where you talk about the power of the T‑shirt and describe it as “completely democratic”. How important is it for you for the England shirt, and your designs generally, to feel democratic?
There’s always a conflict, right? Working in fashion, working with clothes, it’s never going to be totally democratic. There’s always a bit of tension there. Anyone could argue with me if I go, “Yeah, it’s really important for my clothes to be democratic.” People will be like, “Sure…” I mean, people spend £95 on a T‑shirt – how democratic is that? That’s not a point I could necessarily argue with.
My way to counteract that is by saying that I’m telling stories that speak to people on a level that most of them can connect with. If you want to engage with it on that level, you can like something purely because of how it looks, which is fine. Hopefully it will work for you on that level. But there’s also a story about it. I guess it’s partly why I like familiarity. I like things to feel familiar, nostalgic. There are things that everyone can recognise. So it’s like a bomber jacket or a paisley shirt, but there’s something in it that feels vaguely like “I’ve seen that before”, or “my dad used to have that”.
I guess that’s my way of speaking to lots of people because I know ultimately fashion can be narrow. So it’s a way that I can open it up.
Thinking about that conflict that you mentioned: how do you go about making something as “mass” as an England shirt, but balancing that with a sense of cool, which some would argue relies on a form of exclusivity?
It is pretty intimidating, actually, to do something like an England shirt, because it is enjoyed by so many people. There’s a certain amount of pressure, because you’re just like: “Fuck, how do you make something so democratic? What are the parameters? What do they then become?” I’m totally comfortable appealing to a very small audience, speaking to people I normally speak to, because I know they’re going to go on the journey with me. They’re like: “Oh, a jacket with four arms? OK, go on then.” But [if] it’s something that’s so democratic, you think: “Oh, what are my parameters?” They become a bit smaller. So the rules I was saying that I enjoyed before become tighter. It is a bit harder in a way.
There’s another part of Lauren’s book where you say that when you see someone wearing a powerful T‑shirt, one that says something, you “understand that the person wearing it really believes in that message”. Now, the England shirt, or, I guess, English nationalism, or even just England itself, hasn’t always been a particularly positive thing. How much was that on your mind when you were thinking about it?
Very much so. It came up a lot in the research, obviously, because there’s something [you feel] when you see a house festooned with British flags, Union Jacks or a St George’s cross. There’s the immediate feeling that it clashes. It be-
comes really uncomfortable and that’s probably going to be upsetting for some English, British, people to hear, because their experience has been very particular. But my experience of that has not been positive.
Part of the reason I’ve been interested in football strips and used them in my collection is because 1989 is the year I feel like my world opened up a bit. I was nine and I started to see all my cousins going to raves and stuff. They used to go to this Clapham Common one. Everyone would congregate and, because it was on a common, we could go, too.
If we saw people with football shirts on as kids, we were told to cross the road. Absolutely avoid them because there was something threatening, unpredictable. The ’80s was a time of really fucking terrible football violence. But in 1989 it had shifted and I remember sitting on the common and seeing people that we had been told to avoid at all costs dancing in a field, putting their arms around anyone. There was a massive decline in football violence and hooliganism in the terraces because everyone was taking E. I find that so interesting.
I guess, going back to your thing, there is still an unease around it – but that’s what I’m interested in. I’m interested in things that make me feel uneasy, in different ways. It’s interesting to play with notions and ideas, because then you feel like you’re actually talking about something. So, yes, generally, an uncomfortable place is a familiar, good place to visit for a bit.
Did it feel like you were making something political when you made the shirt?
Yes, slightly, because of the stories we were telling and the story of the Lionesses is a political story. It’s political that they were banned. It’s political that there is such inequality between men and women’s football. It feels like something we need to discuss and that’s a political issue, surely.
Do you think it is generally possible to make clothes without being political? Without having some sort of message or opinion?
I think people do make things that are just simply decorative. That is definitely less interesting for me. I like decorative things, of course. But, for me anyway, as a designer I like to exist where you’re not sure if you like it or not, or you’re not sure if it’s going to work, or you have to ask yourself a lot of questions about it. That sense of unease, that’s where I know I like it.
I was thinking about your Promising Britain T‑shirts for SS20 and that tongue-in-cheek take on Brexit, with the government as clowns. How have you felt about the government during this last year or so of the pandemic?
Don’t even get me started! Honestly, those fucking clowns… I mean, people are going really wild about this football shit [we’re speaking the day after the Super League was announced]. That is essentially Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and these [club-owning] billionaires. I don’t even know what to say about the government this past year.
What impact do you think the pandemic will have on fashion? Do you think it will change what people want?
Do you know what? One hundred per cent whilst it’s been happening, yes, of course. But I think as soon as we are able to, people will be absolutely loving structure, loving high heels. I think people really want to express themselves in different ways. I think contrary to what everyone was saying – “oh, this is going to change the nature of dressing” – maybe there will be a residue. But I think people are definitely going to want to. Even me, and I don’t really dress up for much! I cannot wait to get lipstick on and a fucking frock!
In that same collection as your Promising Britain T‑shirt, you used a resin treatment that made certain items appear crinkled. It was around the time of Brexit and I remember you saying that you wanted to get across this idea of something being ruined or undone. Can you feel the events of the last year or so filtering into your work now?
Oh, interesting, that’s really interesting. I wonder if that’s something I can look at in hindsight. Sometimes you have to look at the long arc and, when you look back, you’ll say: “Oh, I can see in that collection that was during Covid it was so derivative, it was dark or angular…” I wonder if I need a bit of space from it because it’s something that seeps in subconsciously. I’m very close to the collection and what goes into it. But sometimes you can only really see that clearly with a bit of distance. So I wonder if you ask me that question in a year’s time whether I would be able to answer it better.
With everything that’s going on in the world, what keeps you optimistic?
Exactly things like this. People keep me optimistic, generally. No more or no less, really. I love people. I love meeting them, like the Lionesses yesterday. But, equally, their stories and experiences are what keep me optimistic.
And what about the future of England? What keeps you optimistic about that?
Again, people. They keep me optimistic despite all the odds. You know, we set up the NHS. We joined the European Union because everyone came together and said “never again” [after World War Two]. That wasn’t governments. I mean, they actioned it, but it was the will of the public. Of course, that has been corrupted and used for political motivations in terms of Brexit and stuff like that. But ultimately, while I think we can destroy, we can definitely create.
What is the message that you want wearers of the shirt to convey? Is there something that you hope people will feel when they see it?
I’d love them to be interested in the story of the Lionesses, because it’s a great fucking story. So, yeah, if it provokes some people to look a little bit more into that, yes, definitely. Ultimately, I want them to feel comfortable. It should feel familiar. It’s using loads of familiar things about the England shirt but it has nods to something else. I want people to feel they’re celebrating the football. I guess that’s ultimately it.
Finally: who do you think’s going to win the football this summer?
We are! Of course we are!
Talent: Martine Rose, Taiwo, Steve Pozzoli, Mike Silva, Gail Emms and Janice Emms, Chris Lockwood, Jordan Nobbs, ENNY, Blackhaine, Paulette King and Afrinya, Leah Williamson, Javarn, Josiane, Sherelle, Clifford Rose, Curtly and Rashad, Justin Bond, Miles, Roxy Lee and Tyrone, Oscar and Frankie, Mason Mount
Hair Blake Henderson. Make-up Marina Belfon-Rose. Prop stylist Polly Philp @ Magnet. Photographer’s assistants Evie Shandilya and Vasilis Kalegias. Stylist’s assistants Rosie Sykes and Freya Reeves. Hair Assistants Harriet Beidleman and
Chloe Pearson. Make-up assistant Aieyesha Beattie. Production
DoBeDo Represents. Digital Operator Tom North. Cake Lily Vanilli