EXCLUSIVE: Martine Rose Is Clarks’ First Guest Creative Director

LONDON Martine Rose is British shoe manufacturer Clarks’ first guest creative director.

Clarks is something that’s so intrinsic to British culture and obviously Jamaican culture because it’s huge in Jamaica because of the Commonwealth. There’s a couple of British brands that are really big in Jamaica because Britishness is a sign of quality and you take it out of context it takes on a life of its own, like a myth,” Rose told WWD in an interview, sitting in her north London studio as she readies her upcoming men’s show in June, where her designs for Clarks will debut on the runway and on sale from March 2024.

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As a community-focused designer, the decision to team with Clarks was an instant “yes” because of the company’s history dating back 200 years, when the local Quaker community stepped in to financially help bail out the founders, Cyrus and James Clark, which resulted in the opening of a new school, theater, library, open-air swimming pool and town hall in Somerset.

Clarks approached Rose last year and she embarked on a trip to its headquarters in Somerset to learn more about the company’s history and to witness the making of Clarks shoes, which in British households are a rite of passage for when children get their feet sized for the first time and buy their first pair of shoes for school.

Rose has designed three pairs of shoes. She’s taken signature Clarks styles such as the loafer, Oxford shoe and sandal to reinterpret it in her own colorful way with a major focus on comfort.

Martine Rose Men’s Fall 2023
Martine Rose, men’s fall 2023

“I was really struck that they work so hard for comfort. They said when the buyers come in, one of the first things they do is twist the shoe around and squidge it,” she said, contrasting it with her own label, where design is primary and comfort is secondary.

The idea of comfort stuck with Rose and she wanted to take it to the next level by creating shoes that look and feel like pillows by adding extra padding to the insoles and using feather downs in shoes, which the Clarks company hadn’t ever worked on before.

She used the same measures she takes with her own collections when choosing the colorways for the shoes.

“There has to be something familiar about it so you can get the riff. We’ve actually tried to keep it more classic, so it’s very simple, there’s a black, oxblood and snakeskin,” said Rose, who had previously sampled “crazy colors” before making her decision.

Her design philosophy has always been about creating small stories within her collections rather than zooming in on one overarching theme.

There are elements of street, sport and tailoring across all the separates in her collections and so when she designed the shoes for Clarks and knew she was going to inaugurate them at her show, there was no pressure to stick to a hard motif.

“Martine was top of our list of guest creative directors to partner with, due to her unconventional approach to design and development and her British-Jamaican background, both of which are core to our brand,” said Tara McRae, chief marketing and digital officer at Clarks.

Rose hinted at another collaboration that’s in the works due for the summer.

Earlier this year she made her debut as special guest designer at Pitti Uomo. The show was significant as it was her first outside the U.K.

“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,” Rose said in an interview, 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 added.

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 suggested that her upcoming show will be held in north London and it will be bigger than ones she’s hosted before in the city.

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