Martyn Bal is one of modern menswear’s well-kept secrets: one of those designers who manage to stay relatively under the radar while accumulating an outstanding track record in the industry. Dior, Versace and Burberry are all resounding names that have benefited from his talent, which he has been slowly but surely putting to use to develop a strong individual aesthetic. His eponymous label is now coming into its third year, and growing to full stature, successfully translating his romantic menswear vision into carefully constructed silhouettes.
Bal’s work is inescapably influenced by contemporary art, music and gender theories, and his most recent project is no different. Literature provided inspiration this time, in the guise of William Blake’s poem ‘Tiger, Tiger’, which gave the t-shirt collection Bal created for S/S11 its title, ‘Burning Bright’. It's a venture away from Bal’s usual precise tailoring and restrained palette. Printed with a fiery eruption of colours and the powerful immortal romantic symbol of the hand, the t-shirts have a mysterious, mystical attraction.
Dazed Digital: What gave you the impetus to create a separate t-shirt collection?
Martyn Bal: It was an experiment to produce a single statement piece that reflects my create vision in a different and simple format, such as a T-shirt. Rather than providing only a simple dialogue of the basic T-shirt and print, as seen everywhere in this format, I thought it would be more interesting to play with the details of both the male character and the environment.
DD: ‘Burning Bright’ references ‘Tiger Tiger’, the Romantic poet William Blake’s famous work. How did it inspire the line?
Martyn Bal: I wanted to create a strong graphic expression that was both related to current affairs and something that presents a duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity. When two contradicting ideas fuse into one entity is what makes it exciting for me. In William Blake’s poem ‘The speaker’ wonders whether the hand that created "The Lamb" also created "The Tyger”. It is not that I was directly inspired by this particular poem, but it happened to be an expression through a different, say, intellectual medium, that was in line with the graphic I had created.
DD: What is so evocative about the graphic symbol of the hand?
Martyn Bal: The open hand is a positive symbol, and the hand has long been thought of as a conduit of support and strength – transforming unseen energy into the world of form. Ultimately the graphic for ‘Burning Bright’ is about Strength and Fragility and the conception of beauty and destruction.
DD: Your work is informed by music, art and gender. Do you think T-shirts are the perfect type of piece for expressing a cultural message?
Martyn Bal: I suppose they are, we actually had several requests to produce a longer version of the t-shirt, so that girls could also wear them as dresses.