Back at our home from home, Chelsea Harbour, we catch up with the Queen of Fashion. It’s the eve of Africa Fashion Week London – she’s headlining a catwalk of Africa and the African diaspora’s very finest. Before all the glitz and glamour, funk and fantasy, jazz and pizzazz, Mary talks to us about the serious side of her fashion artistry: sustainability. At the most fundamental level, her clothes are made to last. But there are multiple layers (pun) to her green credentials.
“I care passionately about sustainability, the environment, the climate emergency and nature. My eponymous fashion label Mary Martin London (MML) reflects these passions. MML could easily stand for Materials Made for Life! I also greatly care about Africa and again my clothes reflect this interest. While many of my models are either from Africa or the African diaspora, I employ and attract a diverse talent: one of my first catwalk models was Polish while I also have mature female Irish clients.”
“I am from a family of 13 siblings and am the second youngest of six sisters so as a child I got used to wearing ‘hand me downs’. I would give these fifth hand clothes my own spin by adding individual accessories. I have been collecting old fabrics from the 1970s. I recently bought factory leftovers of linen which I will use for my next collection.”
“My Queen of Africa dress is an aesthetic interpretation of the countryside: the colourway of this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun. My Cecil the Lion dress came about when I heard the tragic news story from Zimbabwe of a lion maimed and killed by a recreational big game hunter. Layers of tulle around the neck and shoulders represent Cecil’s mane. The back of the dress has got the silkiness and fineness of the lion’s body.”
“I also draw and make my own prints. For my first men’s collection, I designed a print called Slaves in the Trees. I researched the Himba Tribe in Namibia and discovered they use a lot of orange face paint and hair mud. Orange is for the vibrance of earth and black is for the unseen missing elements. Orange represents the sun, the happiness outside. The print also commemorates the suffering inflicted during the slave trade.”
“Many of my dresses have historical inspiration which ties in with the sustainable use of recycled materials and reimagining vintage pieces. Last September I organised a fashion shoot of The Return Collection at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This collection was in part inspired by Georgian costume and aristocracy. Except in my imagination the black models are now the reigning grand aristocracy! The Grand Staircase and Durbar Court provided the perfect backdrop for these extravagant clothes. The collection reuses sequins from old costumes.”
“I continue to research and look for new methods to reinvent old materials in exciting ways. My passion for sustainability, the environment, the climate emergency, nature and of course Africa drives me to be ever more creative, stretching my imagination and skills. I make clothes to last: they represent the antithesis of the throwaway culture. Mary Martin London is all about making the world a better, more exciting and more caring place for current and future generations.”