It is in old cupboards some of our first childhood memories grow from. Be it the world hidden behind closed doors, the corner you chose to hide in during a game of hide and seek or the place you avidly believe monsters live. Cupboards are where magic happens, and in the bizarre comradery of fashion these spaces are where thread flies, colour is thrown together and clothes gradually come to life.
Clara Martin is a young, fresh designer who merges together bright colours, childhood memories and quirks behind her doors. From boy scouts to lettered back packs, Clara's designs are just the right amount of fun, the kind of fun she hopes people who want adventure and a snippet of colour to their wardrobe will chose to wear.
Photographed by Sophie Mayanne among a flurry of sewing machines and shelves upon shelves of coloured thread, Clara is at home in design. She invokes in you childhood memories you wish you could experience again. That rucksack you proudly wore on your first day at school is reinvented and lives again with a new sophisticated edge. The shorts you wore on holiday is given a new lease of life, and the classic jacket everyone loves catches a new breath of colour.
How did you first get into design?
My mum was a designer, but she stopped when I was born. She had a womenswear line for around five or six years. Even though she stopped designing, she would always sew. When I was younger I used to ask what she was doing, and said I wanted to learn how to sew. She said ok we will do a project and we can make some pyjamas. Turns out I hated sewing. I wasn't good at it, and I didn't have any patience, but that was my first introduction to it. Then in school whilst doing art projects I would always try and link it to textiles somehow. I remember at GCSE I designed this whole body wrap thing and I found it really fulfilling. I really liked textiles. I didn't really know it was fashion at that point. It wasn't until I got to college and did a textiles A-level that I realised it was fashion that I really liked. I got my own pattern cutting book and I found a few of my mums old ones. I got into the whole process of thinking mathematically about shape. You know when you used to do the flat layouts in maths? Well, design is a similar thought process to that. Then I applied for a foundation diploma at Chelsea and found out that it was definitely fashion I wanted to do, and I went to Middlesex University to do a degree in fashion. It wasn't clear to me it was menswear I wanted to go into until my second year of studying.
What is the most memorable garment you have made to date?
My graduate collection. I had this coat that was blue and orange. It had cubes protuding from the arms and running down the back. You know when you cut a mango in half, cut it into cubes and then peel it inside out? Well, I wanted that kind of effect on this jacket. It represented my holidays during childhood, where my mum used to cut me up pieces of mango. I ended up making that jacket seven times. I couldn't get it right, so I just kept making it and making it until I was happy with it.
What inspires your work?
Mainly my childhood. It is from quite a personal perspective. I look at old photographs a lot and things I used to love as a child. I haven't really kept many of my friends from primary and high school. I speak to my best friend from primary school still though, so alot of childhood memories are quite hazy and I like to go back and try to remember them. Memories from University and College are still very prominent in my mind. I am inspired by looking at these old photographs. I also found an old Pokemon book the other day and a child's robot. I am inspired by all of these things that are reminiscent of childhood. I was also into computers and geometry as a kid and loved colour. My mum always taught us to be colourful.
Do you have a favourite childhood memory?
My favourite childhood memory is probably, collectively, just school. Primary school was quite fun and it is annoying to me that I can't remember details, but I remember it was very fun. There was a group of six of us who went around primary school and we weren't trouble makers, but we did have a bit of an attitude haha. It was all about play. Even when we did our homework it still felt like play time. As a whole that is a good memory to think of.
If you could dress anyone in your clothes who would it be?
I thought about this recently and at first I was just like "Oh, I don't know!" I really like Jaden Smith and Prince Harry. I think it would be totally hilarious to see Prince Harry wearing a pair of my shorts.
I can imagine him on holiday on a boat or something.
Yeah, he would just be like fuck it I am going to wear what I like. Maybe in a bright pink T-shirt aswell or something wild. I think that would be quite cool. The clothes I make are so heavily conceptual. This is to make guys think outside of the norm. For me it is either sportswear or formal wear for boys, and there is no inbetween. Casual is either a take on sportswear or a take on formal. There is this gap that men have that woman don't. It was a bit of a frustration with menswear at first and I didn't see any options for men who wanted the inbetween, but then I realised that menswear is a reaction towards men. Men didn't actually want it, so then I started questioning why they didn't want it and who actually does. When you start to appreciate that men want nice clothes that are not necessarily sportswear or formal and are just really nicely made, then that is when it starts to creep in.
Who is the boy you envision wearing Clara Martin?
That is still a bit hazy for me. I really like the idea of a really street guy or a drug lord having the confidence to wear an all pink outfit. Just having the confidence to say 'fuck it I’m going to go to work in this today, because I like it'. On the flip side I would really love an investment banker or someone like that to say 'oh, yeah, I’m going to wear my bright green leather jacket today instead of this saville row suit that I should be wearing'. I like the idea of it infiltrating all sorts of guys for different reasons.
Do you think that youth culture has had an influence on your brand?
Absolutely, I think that is the heart of it really. A lot of my inspiration besides childhood memories comes from what I see guys wearing. Mainly younger guys. I have a lot of male cousins who are my test market. They come around and say 'no this needs to be longer', or 'yeah, this is amazing', or 'you should add extra pockets to this'. They are my pool of guys and they are all very into music, culture, film, art and I think that is really important. It really influences my choices as well, because I’m obviously not a man and I want those guys to be wearing it as well. Therefore I need to have their view point and understand what they see.
What is your most significant achievement to date?
Probably getting into the London Collections: Men's showroom. That was a really big push in the right direction. I have shown independently before hand and I had two seasons before. Post graduating I had two where I was showing with the press, which was good, and I definitely had to work hard to pull it off. It helped a lot with exposure, and the people who actually like the brand now are people I met when I first showed. At the shows I remember feeling really positive. I was suddenly in this setting that I had admired for so long. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the British Fashion Council family and to be someone that they would represent. My big thing as well is that I want to become one of London’s own. I want to be recognisable as a London menswear designer, and to be influential within menswear design. That is my vision, so it felt like a big milestone for me.
Where do you see the future of menswear going?
I think it is definitely heading in a really positive direction. However, I do still think there is a lot of work to be done. I think there are still a lot of men to convince about fashion, and then there is this weird thing of a select few men dressing up or dressing for the occasion. You see this especially at fashion week. You see a lot of guys pushing the boundaries and wearing experimental shapes and designs. People really go for it, and then the rest of the year is a lot milder, but I really just hope for a consistency where that is concerned. I want guys to make their choices. You know how women will just wake up in the morning and have the choice to wear what they want or feel? I want men to have this experience too.
Do you think Unisex fashion is what it could be?
I think fashion as a whole is definitely heading that way, but I kind of see men and women "unisex" and then these big grey areas where you can make more of a statement. You know Selfridges came up with that unisex line and they were the first store to ever do it, but then I think even that is restrictive to colour. You think about boy and girl colours in baby shops and you can kind of make those generalisations, but then what happens when you can't make those generalisations anymore? What happens if the grey areas are not actually grey areas and they are justified options? There will be colours and more shape that we associate less with gender and less with the stereotypical man or woman. You can still be a man and wear things that a woman may also wear. It would be normal and there would be no judgment. You just look good.
What is a key Clara Martin piece that you would like to see in everyones wardrobe?
I’m pretty proud of my jackets, particularly my denim style leather jacket. This is something that I definitely want to carry through as I develop and continue. I think it is good to have as an essential, a necessity almost. This piece, in colour, could be the transition for someone who doesn't want to wear something completely out there, but doesn't want to be in all black either. It could be the piece that really bridges that gap and gives men another option, as a transitional kind of conversion. It's a persuasion to come over to the colourful side.
If you were not designing, what do you think you would be doing?
I used to sing and songwrite many years ago so, maybe that, but I am also really into graphics and computers as well. The whole branding exercise. I’m quite into all the components that a brand needs and seeing that realised. So maybe something like that or maybe consultancy...or maybe textiles. I’m not sure haha. I feel like this kind of job makes you more rounded. Somedays I have to be an accountant, sometimes I have to be a merchandiser, and other days I am a buyer, stylist and then a designer! All these roles are to do with my brand and you kind of develop this skillset that you weren't aware of before.
Is designing and seeing people wearing your clothes rewarding?
Yes it is. I’ve only made a few pieces, as I am currently developing an online store to launch this year. I haven't had one previously, so it has all been private orders, but I’m definitely getting emails from people saying that they really appreciate the clothes and photos of people wearing them. When you think of this weird sketch you had ages ago and how it is now something that someone owns, loves and wears - that's really rewarding.
What is your key colour?
Oh god. I would probably say green now. I have used a lot of green over the past few seasons, and I will definitely be using it again.
Is design something that is quite personal to you?
Yeah. I would definitely say my influences are, but I am trying to get into a mind-frame of letting my ideas go and once they are made not harbouring them. It definitely started off personal, but now it becomes this journey where they are not just mine anymore they are also someone else's.
You have to think of the bigger picture don't you.
Exactly. It becomes this.. not a job, but like an ok, I need to grow up and become the bigger picture.
Where you do see yourself in 5 years time?
My mum asked me this question the other day. It is something I didn't really think about this time last year, but I definitely want to have a fully functional team in 5 years time. If you think of 5 years, then that is the equivalent of 10 seasons.
That is a lot!
It is confusing. Especially when you work so far ahead. You say 5 years and I think ok,10 more seasons. I definitely hope to have a bigger space and bigger manufacturing. I definitely want to work towards having a brand shop. I have this idea in my mind of a flagship store and then a series of pop up stores that run alongside. I want pop ups everywhere, and for them to go on tour. So they would go to like Dubai, Thailand and have this unavoidable visibility everywhere, but over limited time periods. I want the flagship somewhere amazing in London, maybe even in Harrods haha.
Interview and words by Sophie Mayanne.