To Make a Scene

Jacopo Bedussi in conversation with Archie Alled Martinez

We would need an unequivocal definition, or at least a shared understanding, of what we mean when we talk about ‘scene’. This refers to the momentum that occurs in culture when a group that is involved in the arts and applied arts in various ways—whether it be underground or more popular and mainstream—becomes relevant, central, fascinating, admired, and envied while attracting the media and the public alike and becoming regarded as a cohesive group of ‘cool’ producers. It would also be necessary to determine whether such a scene actually exists. Because more often than not, if not always, these so-called scenes are not born with a programmatic intent or seemingly under a manifesto drawn up by those who animate them, but rather a somewhat lazy, yet very effective, product of the press that has intercepted something currently happening and has tried retelling the story in a coherent, cohesive manner. Once the press has channelled that intangible fervour in written form, the scene can be officially set under the guise of what had been used to describe it—as if in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite its inherent multiplicity, it ends up being perceived as unambiguous, unidirectional and cohesive. A thousand examples can be given: from the Antwerp Six—who were never a unified group but rather individual designers with their own personal aesthetics and intentions—to the Cool Britannia period, a phenomenon that had multiple and, at times, even antagonistic aspects.

What is happening in Spain has not yet been given a name, which is perhaps for the better. But it is undeniable that, for some years now and with increasing incidence, the creative fervour developing in the country has been increasingly piquing the interest of people and has magnetically—and almost by magic—attracted anyone who is in touch with the spirit of the times.

Spain is a common denominator whether we talk about music or movies: Rosalìa or Omar Ayuso, mixing fashion with pop and social, with Manu Rios and Marc Fornè, or the vitalist jewellery collective of TwoJeys, or even the realism of Nina Urgell, to the magical and queer symbolism of Alejandro Gómez Palomo. There’s also Archie Alled Martinez, of course, who, with his brand and images, has marked the boundaries of a recent pervasive new way of talking about males, the LGBTQ+ community, beauty and attraction.

DUST met up with Archie for a chat.

Jacopo Bedussi – Who are you, and what can you tell us about your brand?

Archie Alled Martinez – My name is Archie Alled Martinez, and I was born in 1990 in Barcelona, where I lived until I was 19. The brand Alled Martinez was founded in Paris in 2019, the year of our first presentation. After I graduated from Central Saint Martins, I went to Paris and worked for Givenchy in menswear for a year. I was a knitwear specialist in college, so I started working in that role. But after the pandemic, I began to wonder what my role was as a creative. I started thinking about some icons, and the idea of dandies always interested and fascinated me. Jacques De Bascher was maybe the beginning of it all. I began to ask myself what I wanted to really say. And I began to investigate the roots of my—our—community. We had just emerged from a pandemic, and it came natural to compare this research to the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s, which affected our community badly. I wondered how both similar but different these two things were. We came out of the first one quickly, whereas, in the 1980s, they had to wait at least ten years before they even began to comprehend what that so-called “gay cancer” was. Those dramatic events laid the foundation of how we create awareness and tell our community’s story today.

J.B. – Bearing in mind everything that happened after, starting a brand in 2019 must not have been easy.

A.A.M. – When I first started, I focused on technique, tradition, knitwear and how things were made. But then I started wondering how much people would understand my efforts. It took me a while to realise that you can’t push people to be interested in understanding or to be interested in a certain kind of production complexity.

J.B. – Yes, I understand. The obsession with quality and technique has been completely lost in the fashion world. In the 90s, showing an interest in these aspects was part of a certain idea of coolness, in some ways even to an extreme—if you think of how creatives like Carol Christian Poell treated materials—but it’s not like that anymore. Even though it may return at some point…

A.A.M. – Exactly. During the pandemic, I had time to do my research properly. I got deeper into Jacques De Bascher—the first muse behind my project and brand—and I was shaken to learn about how he had died when I read Karl Lagerfeld’s memoir. Then, talking to the head of my course at Saint Martins, I was shocked at how little Walter Albini was known. Someone I had just found out about who was an absolute genius because, from Albini’s imagery, you realise that he had an absolute grasp on what it means to produce iconic images. I wondered how it is possible for such a genius to remain in the shadows.

For example, everyone knows about Halston, but no one knows about Walter Albini, and it’s absurd. I was furious with my teachers for not telling me about such a central figure for the community and its aesthetics. The more things I discovered, the more I was elated because De Bascher, Albini and Halston represented everything I loved. The other aspect I loved about these people had to do with how they had died quietly, away from everyone, because of the stigma attached to people dying of AIDS.

So, all these layers of information, history and industry history really affected me. After the pandemic, my production resources dwindled: as a result of this, I decided to move away from knitwear because it was too expensive while also starting my search for a new type of aesthetics. This was the moment when all my research on these people came together. I merged all their messages, reconnected them and infused them with nostalgia. Sometimes this simply involved using a certain colour or silhouette.

I remember using a small basketball vest a couple of seasons ago, almost the size of a tank top. And the reason was simple: when I was 15, I went to a thrift shop, saw this Lakers vest, and fell in love with it. But it was very small, and I wore it just as a tank top. My mind had gone back to it when I was working on my College Collection, focusing on specific codes from my high school years and how much homophobia there was in that environment. In the same way, we looked at football as a reference for our SS23 and what the word ‘metrosexual’ meant in the early 2000s—which was a super homophobic word if you think about it.

J.B. – In your work, there is a way that I find both very new and very nostalgic of dealing with sex, male beauty and bodies that become attractive through the means of clothing. How do you approach these themes?

A.A.M. – Walter Albini was super sexy! The Cazzo T-shirt from Spring/Summer ’79 is crazy! When I was younger, I had a T-shirt that said Big Fucker in the Big Brother logo, and that’s when I started thinking about reusing logos and making them queer. And although the connection is not direct, this work comes from Walter Albini. Vivienne Westwood has also worked in this way often.

J.B. – How much is Spain part of your work? How much has the fact that you are Spanish influenced your aesthetics?

A.A.M. – I don’t know if my work is connected to Barcelona. I think my work is connected to myself. Of course, I am someone who grew up in Barcelona and lived there until I was 19. But then I spent my adult life in London and, more recently, in Paris. I think we’re an amalgam of experiences: I’m from Barcelona, and I’m very Spanish, but I’m also very British and feel very connected to Paris, where I’ve had some wonderful times. I certainly feel like I have the typical Spanish, you know, that thing of never asking for permission. I recognise myself a lot in that. But I also certainly have an education and references that are very London-based and British. I just shot a lookbook in Barcelona, with the beaches, etc. The concept was about nostalgia, and much of mine has to do with Barcelona. This also manifests through less undisguised ways; for example, I created a tank top inspired by a Balenciaga dress my aunt had in Barcelona.

J.B. – Maybe I say this because, as I know you’re Spanish, my reading of your work is biased. But aren’t there also a lot of the 80s and how Almodovar portrayed Banderas in that Mediterranean, cheerful way that you also use to describe male bodies?

A.A.M. – There is certainly a sense of beauty and appreciation of the male body that is decidedly Latin and Mediterranean; that is undeniable. But, at the same time, in this sense, I always try to flirt with the limit of what is acceptable. Sometimes I like exaggerating, putting on a smile and saying something excessive without ever ending in outrage. Modulating this kind of register fascinates and excites me a lot.

My goal is to provoke a reaction. I like male beauty, but I try to hold everything with grace, which I think is very Barcelona. When you refer to the Spanish culture of the 80s, you are probably right, it comes from there too, but I am probably not the right person to go to about evaluating my references.

J.B. – Why do you think sex is back in fashion and not only as something to desire but also as something cool?

A.A.M. – I don’t know if it has something to do with the pandemic. Generally, things come and go in fashion. Trends disappear and then come back. And when you’re in it for a while, you start to realise what will happen. You feel it. I grew up with Karine (Roitfeld ed), Tom (Ford ed), and Mario (Testino ed), and all those images actually had an impact on me. And they made me fall in love with fashion and were a kind of awakening. When I was a teenager, those pictures made me realise how an image’s construction could change an audience’s perception and how they could impact people. When I saw the Yves Saint Laurent campaign for their perfume M7, showing a fully naked model, it struck me; it was powerful for what it created inside of me. It wasn’t pornography, and it wasn’t sexual in that sense, but it produced imagery. You felt part of something. The same thing happened to me with Hedi Slimane’s campaigns for Dior Homme. It was an awakening. Anyway, then, at some point in fashion’s most recent past, Alessandro Michele’s era of whimsical extravagance was perfect, but at some point, you felt there was a need to return to a different relationship between clothes and body. I felt it and I decided to undress my boys. Because it was right, it made sense. It made sense for the community. For a long time, absurd things had also happened within the community; we went as far as bottom-shaming each other. It’s hallucinating. It’s terrifying. That’s why I wanted to create the Bottom T-shirt, for example. Anyway, sexuality in fashion came back because… it just had to come back. It did, but it is a sexuality that is always different because creators learn from the past and how it has been treated. Therefore, the themes that are emphasised, brought to light and problematised, and the registers with which these are spoken about are always different and embedded into the contemporary. We learnt things from the issues that had finally became mainstream about how sex could be wrong: the ‘me too’ movement and the unhealthy relationship between sex and power; we had questioned what consent meant, and maybe sex had disappeared from fashion for a while because of that too. But now, we have learnt from our mistakes, as a society and as a community. I believe that sex should always be had with joy and experienced as a celebration. Sex is beautiful. I once came up with the best solution ever on how to design a jacket while having sex. Then OK, in that case, the sex was mediocre, and maybe it was also my fault since it softened while I was thinking about that jacket, but it doesn’t matter – something good came out of it anyway.

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Jacopo Bedussi in conversation with Archie Alled Martinez