Martine Rose is embracing Florence with brio, taking her unique blend of street, sport and tailoring to the city’s streets and drawing inspiration from local, and medieval, tradition for her debut as special guest designer at Pitti Uomo, which opens Tuesday and runs until Friday.
A London native, Rose is known for her colorful and community-focused runway backdrops, which over the years have included her daughter’s primary school; the Seven Sisters food market in Tottenham, and the roof of a corporate office block in the City of London.
That curiosity about local culture, everyday life and where it all intersects with fashion led Rose to take a closer look at Florence’s different neighborhoods, local heroes and traditions.
A sports fan, she was immediately drawn to “calcio storico,” a medieval mix of soccer and rugby, a brutal game that’s often played on cobblestones. Florentine men still play it, often shirtless, with teams from the city’s four quarters competing.
“I didn’t want to use Florence as a postcard. I really wanted to bring it into the show and pay respect to Italian and Florentine culture,” Rose said in an interview from her north London studio.
“I knew that I wanted to engage the city in a real way. Florence is so beautiful, but it’s also a working, living, breathing city with all different types of people who keep it alive. I was interested in knowing where to find the working class area, the industrial one, the market one. I wanted to understand Florence differently to a tourist,” she said.
Lapo Cianchi, Pitti Immagine’s co-head of special projects, said that during first meeting with Rose “we ended up talking more about family, schools, daily shopping and cycles of life in popular neighborhoods than about fashion shows.”
Rose described her Florence venue as “hiding in plain sight.”
“People are very familiar with it, but after they’ve witnessed what we’ve done with it, they’ll be seeing it in a very new way,” added the designer, who remained tight-lipped on details.
She’s casting Florentine locals for the show, while the music will reference Italian house culture. She said the “heroes” from the city’s four calcio storico competitive teams will also feature.
“I wanted to pull people in like I usually do. At the show you’ll be able to see some familiar faces and heroes, too,” she said.
The show is significant for Rose. It’s her first outside the U.K., and comes amid speculation that she is among the candidates who could succeed Virgil Abloh as designer of the Louis Vuitton men’s collection.
Alboh, who died in 2021, admired her work.
“Martine is such a beautiful soul and one of the most talented people in the industry. I’m so happy she brought us to Camden, it’s one of the most authentic areas,” Abloh said ahead of Rose’s spring 2019 show, which unfurled on a north London residential street.
Rose declined to comment on the Louis Vuitton speculation. Grace Wales Bonner, who showed her collection at Pitti last June, is also thought to be a contender for the Vuitton role, as is the designer Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall.
Rose is feeling the Pitti pressure, but is taking it in her stride.
“It’s hard to ignore the platform and the prestige of Pitti and I’m so honored to have been asked. I definitely feel I’m more on a global stage and I don’t have the security blanket of showing in London and knowing the city,” said Rose, a mother of two young children who founded her brand in 2007 with a collection of shirts.
“I’m nervous, of course, breaking out and showing in another city for the first time, but those feelings are productive and necessary for growth in a personal sense — and in a business one, too,” she said.
Although she’s accustomed to showing in London, Rose has worked on a variety of capsules and special projects for brands including Nike, Napapijri and Tommy Hilfiger. For three years, she shuttled back and forth to Paris, working with Demna on Balenciaga menswear.
She is widely regarded as having been a major influence on the brand’s oversize, distressed and vintage-flecked men’s silhouettes.
That laid-back urban cool has won her numerous fans, including Drake, Naomi Campbell and DJ Goldie, the latter of whom sported looks from Rose’s spring 2023 collection on the cover of the fall 2022 issue of i-D.
Rose’s Pitti collection will be filled with that signature swagger and a blend of Italian tailoring and twisted, thrift shop cool. As always, there will be lots of high shine, dandy flair and references to youth, music, sport and a host of subcultures.
Rose said there’s an element of formality to the collection.
Indeed, formality is one reason why she was attracted to menswear design in the first place. “It’s much more rigid than womenswear and I like to have those boundaries to push against.”
She likes the idea of subverting traditional menswear codes “and playing around the edges of who the character is and what they do. You’ll definitely get a sense of that in this collection, which we’re showing in the home of Italian menswear, tailoring and classic style,” Rose said.
Fabrics include moleskin, mohair and classic tailoring wools, “but then there is always the skewed version, so we have lots of shrunken, boiled wool that creates really interesting silhouettes, and washed nylons and cottons, snakeskins and leathers, too.
“It’s really mashing together those icons. Taking fabrics that are very familiar, safe and classic — and then putting them into something that’s a surprising combination,” she said.
Some of her silhouettes have a 1940s zoot suit feel, with pinstripes slicked across jackets and shirts and overcoats with perky raised shoulders and wide lapels. Colorful, printed neckties sparkle with snazzy metal clips and there is more jewelry than ever.
This season, Rose worked with the New York-based brand LL LLC, which was founded by Lia Lowenthal. Rose discovered Lowenthal’s sculptural designs in a shop in Portland, Oregon, fell in love with them and asked Lowenthal if she’d collaborate.
Among the jewelry that Rose plans to show are gold chunky chain bracelets adorned with coins from the Commonwealth, an association of countries once part of the British Empire.
The Florence show won’t be Rose’s only highlight this year, however.
Rose has designed a tailored clothing collection with her longterm collaborator Nike that’s set to be released this summer. Tailored clothing is new for Nike and Rose said the idea evolved from their conversations about football, or soccer, and women’s football in particular.
“I’m really excited to release that,” she said.
In 2021, Rose and Nike created the “The Lost Lioness,” a virtual experience meant to mark the 50-year anniversary of the English female football team’s trip to Mexico City to compete.
As part of the experience, Rose created a 3D snapshot of a British public housing estate, complete with launderettes, shop fronts and English flags.
Once viewers made their way through the virtual landscape, they were invited to watch a film by Rose and the photographer Rosie Marks showing a mixed cast of characters playing football everywhere from the corridors in their apartment blocks to makeshift indoor pitches.
Artists, models and athletes wore bright knits, sporty parkas and oversize tailoring from Rose’s fall 2021 collection in addition to a genderless version of the England football T-shirt, created with Nike.
During the interview, Rose said her collection has always appealed to women, although she can’t explain why.
“Since the very beginning, our customer base has been as high as 50 percent women — even when I was not doing women’s looks. There’s no rhyme or reason to it other than that I’m a female designer doing menswear,” she said.
Rose plans to slip a few women’s pieces into the Pitti runway show and said the look and mood will align with the menswear. She regularly wears her own designs, with the exception of the branded pieces. “I feel a bit silly wearing my own name,” said Rose, who was wearing a Supreme rainbow sweater during the interview.
With work and projects piling up, Rose said her days have become easier since Tomorrow Ltd. acquired a 60 percent stake in the brand. The support has allowed her to invest in her London-based studio team, develop new product categories and grow the brand’s international footprint.
The collection sells through stores including 10 Corso Como Seoul; Antonioli; Dover Street Market in New York, Los Angeles and Ginza; GR8; Joyce; Matchesfashion; Mr Porter, and Ssense.
The deal with Tomorrow “has given me such security, and the sort of team that takes many years, and is super-expensive, to build. They take care of the backend stuff that I’m not very good at, and that I didn’t go to fashion school to learn,” she said.
Fifteen years after she founded the brand, Rose added that she and the business are still evolving.
“When you first start doing collections, it’s just a whole load of stuff that you like, it doesn’t necessarily have a commercial sense. You cobble it together in some way that hopefully makes sense. And people like it or they don’t.
“Now I have an audience — and it’s a really broad audience. So I am sharpening my understanding of what they need, and how to balance the collection. It’s quite an art to build a range that can service all of the people who are interested in what you are saying and to do it in an authentic way that feels not compromised and real. I’m learning all of those things.”