Big Things. Diesel SS23

The energy at Diesel‘s spring-summer 2023 fashion show was… big. The brand’s creative director, Glenn Martens, claimed that the four inflatable human figures that straddled both each other and the middle of the monumental runway had been certified by Guinness World Records as the largest ever recorded. It was difficult to get an overview, but from my angle they appeared erotically intertwined. That Martens’s invitation came for the second season in a row accompanied by a sex toy – this time a big glass butt plug – further stimulated suspicion that this was their position. Another big statement was the number of people who could attend the show: about 3,000 people had bagged their free tickets online, while a further 1,600 were reserved for students. Most of the 200-ish remaining were there to work or influence. Since his first season at Diesel, Martens has been charged with revitalizing and democratizing Diesel. Fittingly enough, this is partially driven by Renzo Rosso’s ambition to take his company public. Whatever the motivation, this stadium show was powerful evidence of Diesel’s new audience.

Martens said the collection was divided into four chapters: denim, utilitywear, “pop,” and “extravaganza.” He added: “This is my recipe for Diesel; the four ingredients that I insist upon. Because this is only my second show here, and I think we need to keep showing it.” He said one overlying characteristic of the collection was distress: “All of the pieces are ‘imperfect’ through treatment and design. This is something I like, but it also goes back to that democratic instinct. We know Diesel is a brand for anyone who wants to relate, whoever they are, however they feel; everyone is individual and no two people are the same. Plus the piece is supposed to look ‘broken’ so that you can live with it forever – it is unbreakable.” Diesel’s denim expertise was on full display in this offering. It came layered in tulle, interwoven with lace and organza, or spliced into corsetry. The washes and treatments were manifold: Encrusted with croc-print overlays, reverse-sun-faded, garment-dyed into multiple colors. There was denim jersey and knit denim and flocked denim and fringed denim. Utilitywear included a two-tone olive bomber-and-pants menswear look and a long washed cargo dress, plus a series of nomadically postindustrial ragtag jersey ensembles – streetwear for the postapocalypse. Pop delivered acid-toned racer-back or spaghetti-strap minidresses sometimes garlanded with florals and contrast-colored lace. There was a hilarious black leather moto ensemble that seemed like it had previously been made to fit two wearers at once – back to those conjoined figures – before the second wearer had cut himself free to escape. Martens’s Velcro-fastened strap miniskirt returned in silver, as risky as before. A frayed logo jersey tank top and boob tube – both logo-printed and worn over some trompe l’oeil double-bonded denim pieces in black – signaled the extravaganza. This included two exploded bouclé coats made from torn and tufted Diesel-print fabric and a final, triumphantly tattered house-logo-print skirt south of a trucker.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Big D Energy. Diesel Resort 2023

From sustainability to Julia Fox, Glenn Martens’s first 18 months at Diesel have been dedicated to aligning the 1978-founded denim disruptor with both the deeper values and shallower preoccupations of now. In this resort 2023 collection he continued that mission through a further two-pronged emphasis on the serious and the superficial, with both sides of that binary expressed via Martens’s expertly twisted aesthetic. The serious bedrock continues to be in expanding the sustainable operations of this hybrid house. A reconfigured, jersey-specific core line named Diesel Essentials will from this collection forward be made from all-organic cotton, trimmed in recycled materials, and finished with “low impact” treatments and prints. Prime examples here included a fluoro trio of ruched asymmetrical skirts worn under a hoodie, tee, and turtle. On the side, Martens expanded the recently-launched Diesel Rehab Denim capsule – made from denim off-cuts, recycled cotton, and recycled elastane – into pieces including the season’s decadently pocketed utility pants and padded jackets. He added that a for-now exclusively Italian pilot scheme to buy-back and repurpose vintage Diesel through resale or upcycling is showing promising results. This responsible practice lends Martens’s Diesel ample clear-of-conscience wiggle room to play around with the brand’s ethos, which he said is: “to have fun, enjoy life, and be successful in every situation that you are in.” Highlights for sybarites included trompe-l’oeil bumsterish cut jeans for women and men, those ornamentally utilitarian pieces, acres of (sustainable) distressed and sometimes-waterproofed denim, retro-futuristic and logo-heavy clingy metallic knit dresses, gothically scripted skintight motowear, and a surprising diversion into tailoring. With Martens at the helm, Diesel has in short order pretty much defined its new manifesto of sustainable semi-seditious sexiness.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Layered Oddity. Y/Project SS23

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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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New Era. Diesel AW22

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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Glenn Enters The Chat. Jean Paul Gaultier SS22 Couture

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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.