With a background in interior architecture as his reference, Belgian designer Glenn Martens has redefined Y/PROJECT over the past four seasons, adding a dark aesthetic and overseeing womenswear as part of the house’s offerings. I caught up with Martens shortly after he had shown his SS’16 collection in Paris to find out more about the hot new designer on the lips of every European tongue, and to learn more about the pieces set to fill our wardrobes.
Charlotte Sutherland-Hawes: How did you come to be in fashion?
Glenn Martens: I literally fell into fashion. When I was studying Interior Architecture we went on a trip to Antwerp. One of the buildings we visited was the freshly renovated fashion academy. When I finally graduated at the age of 21, I had no idea what to do with my life and I felt too young to start working. I was eager to learn more. I remembered that academy and thought fashion could be fun so I checked the dates for the entrance exams, discovered it was just the following day, left for Antwerp and somehow, got a place. I had no idea what to expect from these studies and was quite shocked when I heard we also had to sew our own designs. I had to find a sewing machine! I had never heard of Maison Margiela or Marc Jacobs before... four years later, I graduated, got a job proposal at Jean Paul Gaultier, moved to Paris and finally in September 2013, ended up at Y/PROJECT.
CS-H: Does that background in architecture translate into your clothes?
GM: My designs do often draw on architecture; it’s fun to experiment with construction, explore the balance and find that detail that makes the design stand or fall. For womenswear, you can really construct dresses as if they were cathedrals. For menswear the approach is subtler, but even the most basic bomber has a constructive twist.
CS-H: What spurred the introduction of womenswear to Y/PROJECT?
GM: It was the CEO’s decision. As I had been showing my own womenswear for three seasons before arriving at Y/PROJECT, my arrival seemed to be the right moment to introduce it. Obviously, I was thrilled.
CS-H: Do you prefer designing for men or women, and why?
GM: Since the very start of my career I have been lucky enough to simultaneously design for both. At Y/PROJECT I see menswear and womenswear as one big overlapping collection, although both do have a completely different approach. For guys, the process is focussed on emotions; even for the most basic t-shirt you need to constantly have in mind the man wearing it. Women are more daring… so the design process is much more experimental and straightforward.
CS-H: What’s the Y/PROJECT message, and who is the customer?
GM: It’s all about attitude. Although our catwalk pieces are independent and avant-garde, I do believe that all the pieces, by themselves, are totally versatile in their wearability. I don’t believe in classification. We’re damn lucky to live today: we have every opportunity and choice! No matter where you come from, no matter your beliefs, gender, body... most of the clothes we create are totally open. I think everyone can find a way to make them relevant to them and their style and attitude.
CS-H: Do you think the Y/PROJECT aesthetic has changed under your creative guidance?
GM: The whole deal of me being made designer of Y/PROJECT four seasons ago was to change the brand identity. Due to the history of the label, we decided it would be a safer strategy to do this slowly. The first two seasons I designed were crossover collections: the first one referring to the future in a subtle way and the second one referring to the past, again with subtlety. With AW’15, my third collection, I feel we imposed the new identity of the label. Having now (re)defined the codes, SS’16 and the seasons to come are all about celebrating what we stand for... now we’re basically just having fun.
CS-H: Who is your inspiration?
GM: I don’t really have role models or people I look up to. I have quite an eclectic taste. I appreciate anything honest and straightforward. But I do get most inspiration from the street… the Paris metro is a goldmine!
CS-H: What’s your favourite piece from the collection you just showed?
GM: I love our sleeve constructions. They refer to medieval wardrobes, architectural structures and rave culture, all in one go.
CS-H: What does the future hold for Y/project?
GM: Just this season we doubled our sales. I hope we can continue to grow, giving us more opportunities to experiment, push borders - and chill.
Words: Charlotte Sutherland-Hawes
Image source: Y/Project SS'16 collection / RITUAL PRojects