British-Jamaican designer Martine Rose new guest creative director at Clarks
Jamaica’s love for Clarks is undeniable. In 1973, when then Prime Minister Michael Manley imposed a ban on overseas-produced footwear, it resulted in Jamaicans from the United Kingdom bringing in grips filled with Clarks for their loved ones. “Everybody haffi ask whey mi get mi Clarks,” sang Vybz Kartel in his 2010 hit paying homage to the brand. And who can forget current Prime Minister Andrew Holness donning his ‘Bank Robbers’ and Desert Boots on the campaign trail in 2020. Now in 2023, renowned British-Jamaican menswear designer Martine Rose has been named the first guest creative director of Clarks.
Rose is known for crafting eclectic designs with out-of-the-box thinking and sophistication. Her eponymous line is booming with the fashion set, and with a stint contributing to Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, her name resounds as one of the best and most talented in the business.
But who is Martine Rose the person? “A romantic in how I see the world,” she starts to tell The Sunday Gleaner, before being interrupted by a model walking into her London studio. Rose is prepping for her slated June 11 show, where her collaboration with Clarks will make its first appearance. “Hello darling,” she says warmly to the model before continuing, “I get taken up with stories and people. I love people a lot.” She ponders her next words and then adds regarding the original question, “I think I’m quite funny and [I] am an optimistic person.”
While the pressure might be on to fine-tune the details of her show, Rose is in a good mood, “The sun is shining for once in London, so that puts a smile on my face.”
With a British mum and Jamaican father from west Kingston – Orange Street to be specific – Rose grew up mostly around her paternal Jamaican grandparents. They say ‘Jamaicans have a lot of jobs’ and her grandfather was a tailor and cabinetmaker, and her grandmother was a nurse and seamstress. She reminisces about how stylish both were and how being around a multigenerational household, where the culture and music scene informed what people wore, influence her creativity today.
Designing wasn’t always her dream. “My journey into fashion was not because I really thought that I wanted to be a designer.” Instead, it wasn’t until she went to art school that she decided designing was for her. Of specialising in menswear, she says she’s naturally a tomboy and adds, “I like that menswear has this structure about it, and like pushing against the formality of it.”
With major success in her sneaker collaborations with Nike, it’s no surprise that Clarks would scout her to be their guest creative director. Concerning the alliance, she tells us her collaboration is associated with the main line (middle section) of Clarks (not to be confused with Clarks Originals that include Wallabee’s, Desert Boots, Bank Robbers, etc). Rose has been asked to breathe new life into three styles, an oxford, sandal, and loafer, where she has applied new concepts to each style. In true Martine Rose form, taking things that could be considered typical or familiar and transforming them into something more exciting and different.
I ask for a sneak peek (can you blame me?). Rose admires my attempt but gives an affable ‘no’, because while it’s down to the wire for the show, at the time of our interview the prototypes aren’t in yet.
Rose’s ears must have been ringing as her name was constantly being brought up as the potential new creative director for Louis Vuitton since Virgil Abloh’s untimely passing in 2021. We now know the position has gone to Pharell Williams and asked her about her thoughts on his appointment. “I think they made the choice that they felt was right for them. I think it’s been a successful formula for them to choose someone that is sort of high value in terms of exposure and followers and profile, so I think that they naturally invested in that concept.”
At 43, Rose is grateful for where she is at and is excited about her future. Could she have foreseen herself where she is now? “No. Not at all. Also, I thought when I was younger that when I would get older my tastes would change, and the irony of getting older is that I’m still into what I was always into in a way. I’m still as into clothes, still as into music, still into culture and everything as much as when I was younger. I haven’t all of a sudden become boring or disinterested.” She also makes a valid point that the late Tina Turner’s career took on new life in her 40s, so for anyone who thinks being middle-age means that dreaming and accomplishments end, they should think again.
As we wait to see the Martine Rose x Clarks collaboration, there is a certainty that Rose will continue to push the boundaries with her daring and unique approach. And that her designs will always have elements of surprise and innovation, challenging what is typical within the industry, while providing concrete examples of how culture can influence fashion and style.