“It’s a bit like Gothic cathedrals, a Flemish vibe… like Bruges”, Glenn Martens described his spring-summer 2023 collection for Y/Project. Bruges is a tiny, ancient, weirdly beautiful city that never stops looking fresh because it was so madly built – depending on the time of day and the shape of your mood there are new angles of oddity everywhere. So Martens’s simile worked nicely. This stroll through Y/Project, held in the lush garden of an elite Parisian school on a raised gravel runway as shocked parakeets dashed above, combined his familiar symphonic weirdness with some stimulating fresh notes. The basenote remained distorted denim, imprinted with a so-cheesy-it’s-good Eiffel Tower logo that you wondered might be a gentle satire of the rumbustious graphics so favored at the designer’s day job at Diesel until he gently disambiguated that it had been in place here since 2013. There was a whole chapter of new trompe l’oeil pieces as a second season partnership with Jean Paul Gaultier. Instead of nudes this time the emphasis was on impressing the dressed-down – classic Y/Project jeans and vests and polos – on slips and rib-knits. There were hilarious flipped-finger earrings and four “evil baby” tops whose drawn-on distended bodies were based on a much-regretted tattoo on a drunk British guy that Martens had met while developing the collection. Possibly the most striking innovation of all – this season’s flying buttress – were the apparently impossible tank tops suspended at the shoulder by nearly invisible wiring. And yet the central architectural device underpinning all this seasonally-adjusted weirdness remained the malleable wire endoskeletons that allowed tailoring, denim, and alien eveningwear to be distorted into shockwave shapes. Like Bruges, it is worth revisiting again and again.
Who would have ever thought that Diesel might be cool again? Like, really cool? Glenn Martens‘ first runway collection for the Italian denim brand is the best start of Milan Fashion Week you could imagine. The red catwalk was surrounded by inflatable, mega-sized dolls – a giant man and woman in sexy poses – which added an eerie, yet highly-Instagrammable ambiance to the presentation. Bizarre set aside, the latest Diesel collection was all about Y2k aesthetic with a futuristic twist. Logo mini-skirts, jumpsuits printed to appear like denim in trompe l’oeil style, and distressed jeans were unmistakably Diesel, very 2000s, but also super relevant in 2022. The more conceptual pieces – like the utilitarian jumpsuits and fleecy denim sweaters – were pure Martens as we know him from Y/Project. Beyond denim, the designer introduced chiffon and organza dresses, leather suits and shearling flight jackets, and a mystifying array of metallic coated knit dresses. Still, the timeless, over-sized denim trench was the ultimate show-stopper and will surely become an instant best-seller. Also, I really loved the use of body paint – very alien-chic. One model appeared in a bright shade of red that contrasted the icy blue of her denim top and jeans. The industry had high hopes for Martens’ take-over of the brand, which rather affiliated with shopping-mall fashion and a tired macho aesthetic. With his latest collection for the brand, Martens definitely doesn’t disappoint. It’s safe to say – we’re entering a new era of Diesel.
Y/Project’s Glenn Martens unveiled his vision of Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture—the second designer to do so, after Chitose Abe of Sacai last season – and it appeared to be a heavenly match. What makes this collection so magical, so right and so much fun? It’s an escapist exercise in what you can do when you’re let loose in the wunderateliers that are the Gaultier workrooms. Plus, as we all well know, Martens knows how to make a brilliant and inventive silhouette. One of the looks he was furiously working on is a Breton marinière which has been turned into a dress and then hand-embroidered to ripple 3D-style with hundreds of faux coral fronds. The sailor stripes are pure Gaultier, yet the twists to this dress – the folded-over shoulder line, the knit panel which sinuously and unexpectedly juts out from the left hip – are pure Martens at Y/Project. “I am only doing this for one season, so it’s not like I have to envision a whole new future for the house; that’s a very different exercise,” Martens said. “This is a celebration of Gaultier. I’ve stayed close to the woman Jean Paul created in the past—pure diva goddess beauty, hips, whatever, all that drama he loved. I’m building on that through what I think of his iconic Gaultier moments. This marinière…it’s so him, but I completely fucked it up with all the fake coral spikes. I’m reinventing those iconic moments in my own way.” That’s what makes Martens’s version of Gaultier couture fly: the acknowledgement that it can’t be a retread of the past glories of one of fashion’s greatest designers, but instead honor what went before and incorporate the best of yourself. It is not C as in collaboration ( a word which is looking increasingly passé) but C as in conversation, a constant state of respectfully going back and forth between incoming designer and the heritage of the house.
That marinière dress was sandwiched between a series of corseted jacquard knit looks, whose body molding striations recall ’90s Gaultier and plenty of gorgeous, ethereal evening dresses, confections of chiffon selvedge, whose lightness were amplified by the ferocious ingenuity of their barely visible inner constructions. One, in black chiffon across a delicately pale pink corset, was a particular knockout. The interaction between the two visions continued with an evening gown in a boudoir-y, peignoir-y ’30s peach which looked like a deconstructed corset, the lacing asymmetrically blown up across the billowing skirts, while a cream knit sweater dress featured cable panels that intersected, baring a little skin along the way. Elsewhere, those wired experimental volumes Martens loves so much figured prominently, in red velvet or green taffeta, as did a wink-wink to Y/Project with the Y shaping of the hips on some of his silhouettes, his own version of the classic hourglass but reimagined for today. Martens was drafted in to do this collection two years ago, so because of the pandemic, it has been in gestation for a while. Yet, despite that, it feels hardwired to the moment. While it will very likely appeal to Gaultier couture loyalists, it will also speak to today’s fashion-savvy IG generation who applaud every big gesture and historically savvy flourish.
There was a lot to unpack in this men’s autumn-winter and women’s pre-fall 2022 Y/Project show. This must be why it was held in a spaceship-sized logistics artery on the northern edge of Paris that every day, all day, connects freight trains and trucks bringing goods into the city with 23 loading bays’ worth of courier vehicles. The epic venue offered beyond-enough room for social distancing. And it made for a runway so long that by my watch it took a full four minutes for the models to transit from one end to the other. Amongst the models were two fashion insiders that are close to Glenn Martens: Camille Bidault-Waddington and Olivier Theyskens. Theyskens said just before the show started: “Glenn proposed it to me. I know him and I love him. We work in the same neighborhood and we both come from Belgium.” The next highlight of the collection: the creative presence of Jean Paul Gaultier. Next week during the haute couture presentations, Martens will moonlight as a one-season only creative director for Jean Paul Gaultier. At this ready-to-wear show, Martens presented first hints of the dialogue: “We took one of his most iconic prints and we interpreted it in a Y/Project way. It’s very layered – you have men’s prints and women’s prints and they go on top of each other.” The trompe l’oeil body prints and penis pants that Martens was referring to, and which will be part of Y/Project’s Gaultier-facing ready-to-wear capsule, were certainly striking and worked well with the Belgian designer’s signature garment distortion.
This season at Y/Project, the biggest news is the collaboration with Fila. Glenn Martens‘ worked around the sporstwear items made in co-operation with the Italian giant, staying true to himself – there just wouldn’t be a Y/Project line-up without his distorted twists and trompe l’oeil doublings that build the brand’s aesthetics. Some of the latest developments? Take the braided knits that rose from the waist to tangle at the neckline in order to allow the wearer to rearrange the garment in various permutations according to inclination. As Martens said: “You have to choose where exactly to put your head within it: we always try to push people to experiment with the garments and really embrace them and have fun with them.” Double mini-dresses could be worn with the organza top layer pulled down for a more classic look, or pulled up by drawstring for a broken effect. Bucket bags came structured, as did many of the garments, with wire inserts that invited the carrier to reshape their architecture as they pleased. The ‘Melissa’ shoes, in rubber, were the chicest vegan beach-ready footwear you will ever see. A red Fila tracksuit cut in with white branding was rearrangeable via popper to allow you to dictate how much logo you were flashing. Look 33’s skirt was in fact a pant, with a hole to the top left of the garment that the wearer had ejected her leg from. A men’s short-sleeved shirt came with a series of panels whose arrangement demanded that you decide whether you preferred pattern or plain, while some awesome gowns in jersey and velvet could be worn in multiple ways. Y/Project clothes are like a box of hard puzzles – they are demanding, sophisticated, but once you fall in love with them, there’s satisfaction.