Mon 3rd August

Martine Rose talks Denim: New Techniques, Sustainability & The Perfect Pair of Jeans

Text   Dino Bonacic

Always the one to spontaneously rethink tradition, Martine delves deep into her relationship with the sturdy fabric and everything that goes into it.

When she launched her eponymous brand in 2007, Martine Rose started off by designing a line of men’s shirts which featured a somewhat classic silhouette with tech-y pocket details. Prior to her own label, she ran LMNOP together with her now-stylist Tamara Rhotstein which was dedicated to their joint love of T-shirts. During her time as a menswear consultant at Balenciaga, she helped establish a new era of tailoring – oversized, broad-shouldered and powerful. Yet if there was one item that perfectly follows the trajectory of Martine Rose, both as a designer and a business, it would have to be a pair of jeans. 

Her personal journey with this wardrobe classic began early in her life, when she discovered (and wore) the cult 1990s denim brand Joe Bloggs. “They did really big jeans – a sort of skate-y cut, and also used to create incredible ad campaigns,” remembers Martine. Ran by a Burnley market stall trader Shami Ahmed, Joe Bloggs was a flash-in-the-pan-kinda label whose silhouette of extremely wide-legged trousers became synonymous with the Madchester movement and the imagery of ravers viciously bobbing their entire bodies to the techno beats while their trousers swept the filthy nightclub floors.

As part of her spring/summer 2013 collection, Martine revisited those stories and debuted her first line of denim. All made in a baby blue light wash, she presented jackets, shirts, shorts and – of course – those sweeping, triangle-shaped jeans, updated with a double waistband which went on to become one of her signature details. “I had no idea about everything that goes into making a pair of jeans when I first started working with denim – I just knew how I wanted them to look like. So it has also been a process for me to learn,” she explains.

Martine Rose SS13

Ever since that first venture, denim has always been present in her collections – sometimes coming in an even more extreme silhouette (autumn/winter 2014), with three waistbands and in a range of pastel ice-cream shades (autumn/winter 2017) or patchworked into a pair of trackies (spring/summer 2019). Over the past eight years, Martine explored many facets of the versatile fabric, and she credits that growth to her evolving relationship with denim mills and washhouses which continually innovate its possibilities. 

“It’s very much a circular conversation because they need it in many ways in terms of the development – you can lead the design ideas, but they really know how to execute it,” she says, describing the relationship as symbiotic. “It really is another world and you can understand why some people just do denim brands because the options are endless.” She initially started working with a denim factory in Turkey (“they just taught me so much about washing,”) before expanding the network with producers in Tunisia, Italy and France. For her autumn/winter 2019 collection, Martine also worked with London-based organic denim experts of Blackhorse Lane where she patchworked leftovers of fabric scraps in various shades of blue.

Best of Martine Rose's Denim

When discussing denim, sustainability is one of those topics that has to come up – the processes of making the fabric are not only massively polluting but its bleaching and washing also requires vast amounts of water (it takes roughly 1,800 gallons to make one average pair of jeans). “Right now, we are finding new ways to develop some old, vintage ideas in more sustainable ways,” Martine says, noting once again the importance of the dialogue with the denim producers throughout the process.

As a designer, Martine Rose is always led by solutions and products rather than grand ideas and convoluted storylines that are there to mask the lack of commercial thinking. Her confidence in knowing what works and what doesn’t is one of her biggest strengths, and it’s one that comes extremely useful when working with denim. “I think it’s really about pushing ourselves and the mills to be on the voyage of discovery with us and really understand the blue sky-ness of the technology that they have  so we can push it to the limit. That’s really where we want – and have to – take denim. It’s not even a choice anymore. No one can afford to keep polluting in the way that we have.” In addition to collaging existing fabrics, some of the techniques she has recently been exploring include using light and lasers to mimic various washes and prints that traditionally have larger polluting effects on nature.

The trick here though – and with denim in general – is to create convincing results. “Everyone knows what real jeans look like, so you can’t really get away with the ‘fake’ ones, because they end up looking really bad. It has to be authentic – anything you do with denim that looks fake, it looks really terrible,” Martine explains. For example, her spring/summer 2020 collection (which you can currently shop on the brand’s recently launched e-shop) included permanently crinkled jeans which were created by applying resin to the fabric itself, prior to cutting into it. “There was a lot of trial and error as they needed to stay rigid,” she says.

Another method used for SS20 was creating washes and whiskers that imitated a fading effect in the shape of everyday articles we usually carry in our pockets. Keys, coins, condoms and mobile phones all appear in that classically Martine Rose, tongue-in-cheek way. “It’s actually a combination of techniques – making moulds and washing the denim, and then refining it with laser. Actual objects are involved because we wanted to make it look as real as possible – if it’s just a surface technique, it looks really fake.”

Martine Rose SS20; Photo by Roxy Lee

In Martine’s most recent, autumn/winter 2020 collection, denimheads once again had plenty to drool over. While it appeared as printed with stripes and cameo portraits of wigged models from the season before, the fabric was in fact woven into a denim jacquard which was treated to look like a worn-out rug. “And the detail in them is amazing – when it first came back, we were all so blown away by the finish,” the designer reveals. There were full suits made out of cameo-patterned and striped denim jacquards, as well as more tamed pairs of jeans made in darker washes with multiple cargo pockets on the side.

Martine Rose AW20

It’s clear that, as her brand grows, the denim line continues to plays an increasingly important role in the expansion. Martine has already been named as one of the designers to watch by the denim-focused trade publication Rivet, and she employs consultants whose sole job is to understand everything about the fabric. “It encourages you to think differently, and you can apply more ideas to it in a way that you can’t apply to, for example, shirting. You can also develop it at an affordable price point with all of these techniques, and it’s not going to come out at a million pounds.”

But is there a perfect pair of jeans out there? According to Martine: “there’s nothing better than Levi’s. It’s the expertise… and you can’t beat hundreds of years – They do what they do and they do it better than anyone else.” She also mentions Lee and Wrangler as being those important heritage brands that serve as a benchmark for everyone else working with the fabric. “There’s absolutely no way of replacing them or being better in their field, but it’s about using them as our foundation and then trying to take the conversation creatively further on.” 

You can shop Martine Rose denim online at martine-rose.com. The first drop of the AW20 collection is coming soon.

@martine_rose

Martine Rose SS20 campaign; Photo by Dick Jewell