DR. MARTENS Collaborations: Art of Rebellion

In this era of collaborations, there are countless juxtapositions created every season, some better than others. Dr. Martens seasonal collaborations are strong examples of how art can work strongly within the context of fashion. Their recent set of collaborations over the last few seasons are part of a larger trend in which British designers are inspired by the historic art of rebellious and progressive historic figures.

In particular, Alexander McQueen, who was renowned for his subversion of historic references, brought a dark modernity to his collections and in turn used them as a benchmark to build the narratives for his extravagant shows. His posthumous collection, Angels and Demons, shown just after his death in 2010, featured glimpses of printed fabric with the triptych painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Dutch Late 15th century master, Hieronymus Bosch. Depicting a medieval perspective on heaven, hell and everything in between, McQueen literally drew from its strong narrative, rich colours to create a collection which celebrated both the light and the dark elements of the painting. 

Another English designer synonymous with balancing cultural subversion with luxury, Giles Deacon most recently referenced his favourite painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by early 19th century French romantic painter, Paul Delaroche. 

Lady Jane Grey was a 16th-century claimant to the English throne who has left an abiding impression in English literature. She was queen for nine days before being found guilty for treason and beheaded. The painting, which lives in the National Gallery, London, is the most visited painting in the museum, particularly by younger generations. Deacon describes how “she was a really progressive woman of her time. She fought for common farmers land rights and was very unpopular in polite society for that reason.

Throughout the history of Dr. Martens, the brand has been adopted and subverted by countless rebellious characters, subcultures and tribes. For the first of this set of collaborations, the brand, like McQueen, drew inspiration from Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to design a capsule collection of combat boots, oxfords and satchel bags that beautifully display the triptych’s iconic depiction of heaven and hell.

For AW’15, Dr. Martins focused on the early Renaissance artist, d’Antonio. Born Biagio d’Antonio Tucci, the Italian renaissance painter is one of the lesser known of the masters from this period, which makes it an interesting choice for such a well known brand. The painting, Triumph of Camillus depicts an event from relatively early on in Rome’s history, concerning the siege of the city from its captors, The Gauls. Despite being offered a surrender as well as compensation, the painting’s protagonist Camillus reacts with the powerful rhetoric stating that “With iron, and not with gold, Rome buys her freedom”.  

Dr. Martens were perhaps inspired by this subject matter because it represents an act of rebellion and protest, aligning with their ethos and history. Similar to their Bosch collection, the brand designed a combination of a Pascal 8 eye boot, a 1461 shoe, then rounded off with an 11” satchel for a complete set. 

Similar to Bosch’s painting, A Rake’s Progress, acts as a cautionary tale on the perils of life’s temptations. Created by 18th Century painter and printmaker, William Hogarth, the series of satirical prints is not only the quintessential the original comedy of errors, but a unique piece of social observation into urban life at the time. The series follows the misdemeanours of Tom Rakewell, who squanders an inheritance on the pitfalls of London debaucheries, before ending his days in an asylum. 

Although extreme in its narrative, the imagery still holds a modern relevance in its depiction of reality, which make them a perfect fit for the brand. Collaborating with the John Soane Museum for AW ‘15, Dr. Martens translated the paintings’ combination of dark, rich colours with faded tones onto both footwear and accessories.