Paris’ Explosive New Youth: Glenn Martens.
Interview by kate lawson
Belgian-born designer Glenn Martens, an Antwerp graduate, has been shaking things up at artisanal Paris based label Y/Project since 2013. Founded by the late Yohan Serfaty in 2010, the label’s original focus was on menswear, until under Marten’s creative direction, with his ability to develop an approach to the brand that was really his own, an expansion into womenswear fused architectural cuts, textural elements and a transcendent versatility with straightforward silhouettes.
With both a nostalgic and futuristic vision, Martens has taken Y/Project into a whole new streetwear realm with a fresh attitude, reimagining a grunge-meets-goth-meets-urban aesthetic which traces the fine line between youth and adulthood, reflecting a generation’s energy – while the notion of duality in his mind plays out with a primitive, delicate romanticism.
Martens has fast become part of the Parisian fashion scene’s explosive new youth, where design sensibility and identity is built on a bold and honest approach to clothing - we caught up with the designer to talk people-watching, personal fashion disasters and the soundtrack to his life.
Was fashion always going to be a career path you wanted to follow?
Not at all. I was going to become an Egyptologist, a lawyer, a landscape architect, an art historian. I wasn’t even aware that one could actually study fashion design. I discovered the whole thing pretty late, after getting my Bachelors in Interior Architecture, at 21.
So with your background in interior architecture, is that why there is such an emphasis on experimentation with structure, cut and construction in your designs?
I studied it, but never worked in it. The first piece I ever made in the fashion Academy did look more like a pizza box than a skirt. I do indeed think that’s where I caught my obsession for construction though.
And growing up in Bruges, did art influence you, like the Flemish masters - Breughel, Memling and Van Eyck - are you into art as a reference?
I was quite a geek for a child - my childhood room was filled with posters of Hans Memling. Today, I don’t really focus on art. Anything is a potential reference to me.
Let’s talk about your womenswear label which showed at Paris Fashion Week in 2012, are you still working on that?
I’m drawing 4 collections a year for Y/PROJECT. Furthermore I do some consultancy and I recently started a bit of teaching. I barely have time to make love, so no I stopped my brand.
So do you think it’s difficult to stay independent as a designer?
I had my own label for 3 seasons. It was a one-man show, it went really well but I had to handle the whole thing by myself, from pattern making to sales and production. Unless you’re Rambo, wealthy, abusive or extremely well connected, it’s definitely quite tricky for an independent designer to survive the first 2 years. I did get a bit of burn-out from it.
And then you joined Y/Project in 2013 - what was your vision for the label then and how has it evolved?
Out of respect for Yohan -Y/PROJECT’s original designer who passed away just 4 months before my arrival - we decided to stay close to his creative world. It was only 1 year after I joined the brand that I imposed my personal vision.
Looking back I don’t know if that really was the best tactic, but at the end, when one takes over a brand in mourning, there’s just no ideal way to do it.
Today, another year further on, we’ve made peace with the past and set our bases for what the brand stands for. It’s all about fun.
So what do you think are the consumers expectations of the brand now, and is it important to you to know what people think about the collections?
The exciting part about fashion is that its success is reached by many totally different factors. A big part is creativity but furthermore there’s this whole social aspect to it. You need to listen and to be flexible. I think that’s what we stand for. Y/PROJECT is all about freedom and versatility, the outcome is therefore very eclectic. I hear that’s what attracts our customers.
Your clothing is really adaptable for the wearer in all situations - how does street culture and the vibe of how people are dressing really influence you?
I constantly catch myself staring at people. It’s very embarrassing. I want to see how they’re influenced by what they wear, the effect clothes have on their attitude, their personality. It is my main source of inspiration.
"Y/PROJECT is all about freedom and versatility, the outcome is therefore very eclectic. I hear that’s what attracts our customers."
And there seems to be a gender neutral vibe to some of your designs, a move away from traditional gendered fashion stereotypes, is that deliberate?
We really don’t go that deep. I basically want to make fun clothes, make people feel good. Personally I am totally disconnected to the stereotypes you mention, so I guess that’s reflecting in how I present my clothes. Since 2012, even with the launch of my own collection, I’ve always put my girls in baggie’s, oversized blazers and bombers. My brother’s favourite pull is still the one-sleeved knit I designed 7 years ago. I never really care that much about expectations.
We obviously make a statement on the catwalk but when you look at the clothes independently, you’ll see they’re all quite easy, it’s all about twists. Most of what we propose is already adaptable to any kind of situation.
Youth and adolescence also seem to be recurring themes of inspiration in your collections - do you think it’s because there is a spontaneity and creative freedom in youth that can be reshaped season in season out?
I understand that people tend to think I’m obsessed by youth culture. But whenever I’m obsessed with some kind of muse, it’s always some drop-dead historic beauty that very probably died in a most horrific, sad or pathetic way. For the rest I think I’m a quite a “dry” kind of guy. I do indeed often refer to youth culture; it’s about the celebration! I’ll always put it in contrast with something more toned down, sophisticated and elegant.
What about your own teenage years - were you a rebellious dresser or did you conform to a particular style tribe?
Obviously I was a bit of an annoying, obnoxious teenager, but then again, I always got good grades, never skipped school, studied Latin and languages and I was really good in stashing my weed or covering up my hangovers! I really wasn’t that bad. At home, we did not have the money to follow style tribes, but I did pretend to be a skater for a little while, which basically meant me smoking around a skate park wearing my big brother’s denim’s!
Any personal fashion disasters you care to mention?
Two gel home-bleached (orange) locks on the front of my head.
And aside from home bleaching(!), what about the rest of your personal style - do you plan your daily outfits?
I tend to pick the first clean thing I find!
Are you a conceptualist or a romantic?
I’m very dual. I’m both. It’s very exhausting.
What about other designers you admire - who do you think is really reshaping fashion for the future, apart from you of course?
Haha, of course! Hmm, well I respect so many different designers for so many different reasons. Regardless of style or aesthetic, I just need to feel their approach is honest and fresh. I can’t predict if anybody today really is reshaping the future. Everything is in constant change, it has all been done and re-done. I see brands copy-pasting full identities and people celebrating it. I honestly don’t really care about what’s happening around me. But I do think Nicolas Ghesquière is quite genius.
And is there a design piece or print you wish you had created?
And what about when you’re not working, what’s a typical day like for you?
Basically I’m always working. Sometimes I have hangovers. I’m actually longing for something typical.
Where do you feel most at home?
That’s the good thing about having a hectic lifestyle, I feel quite good everywhere. I do miss my friends a lot though.
Tell us one thing we don’t know about you that might surprise us?
I actually don’t drink that much.
And if you could describe your #currentmood with an emoji, what would it be?
I don’t use emoji’s that much, unless a smiley is an emoji?
Yes a smiley is an emoji.
Well I like the little chick in the egg!
That’s the hatching chick, seeing the world for the first time! Talking of seeing the world around us, what about Instagram - are you a fan and which accounts do you follow that you really love?
It’s a great barometer, so yes for sure I’m on it! Courtney Stodden’s posts make me laugh.
And in the future, what can we expect from you?
Collab’s! I love collab’s!
Finally, one of my favourite parts of attending fashion shows is hearing the soundtracks - if you could choose a song as the soundtrack to your life, what would it be?
I’m such a cliché. I would say Handel - Lascia Ch'io Pianga
What are your favourite fashion moments ever?
Here are some of my personal favourite fashion moments: I got really excited by Raf’s / Jil Sander's Autumn Winter 2012 collection. Galliano’s Dior Spring Summer 2007 'Madame Butterfly’ couture was just epic! And I literally cried at Bruno Pieters’ Autumn Winter 2009 show - he mixed Maria Callas into a deep techno which made everybody at the show quite uncomfortable. That in combination with his laser-sharp looks… just perfect!