Glenn Martens and Bianca O'Brian by Antoine Harinthe
OUR INTERVIEW WITH GLENN MARTENS
By Armelle Leturcq
Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2017 ANDAM Awards, Glenn Martens is easily one of the most talented and promising designers to emerge in recent years. He has brought all of his passion, vitality, and vision to Y/Project to create pieces packed with references to the 1990s and medieval architecture. He sat down with us to explore every facet of his career, from his early days to the future of his fashion house.
Can you tell us about your background? How did you get started in fashion? Where did you study?
I’m Belgian, grew up in Bruges, and I was originally studying interior decorating. At 21, I had a degree but I was far too young to get work. I discovered the Academy in Antwerp during school trips because it’s such a beautiful building. I thought that fashion sounded fun, so I sat for the entrance exam with my portfolio of chairs and kitchens, and they let me in. It was rough going at first, because I had absolutely no fashion culture—I barely knew who Karl Lagerfeld was! I even showed up to my first pattern making class without a sewing machine! All the other students were extremely motivated and came from all over the world. It was tough but after two or three months I had caught the fashion bug and was totally into it. By the end it was an absolute joy. I barely passed the first two years, with a mediocre grade average of 10/20. And by the last year, I was an honors student. I definitely made progress.
What fashion houses did you work for when you first started?
I was very fortunate, because in my final year, a jury member placed me at Gaultier as a junior designer for the Men’s collection and the Women’s pre-collection. After Gaultier, I worked for several designers, especially Bruno Pieters, a Belgian designer. We worked together on different projects and collaborations, which gave me a solid foundation for launching my own brand. I started my brand as a kind of one-man show prepared with the help of just two interns. At that time, back in 2013, Gilles Elalouf reached out to ask if I wanted to take over Y/Project. It was quite a conundrum for me, because I didn’t want to give up on my brand, but since Y/Project was such a small organization I decided to accept it. It was a delicate situation at first, because Yohan Serfaty had just passed away and the fashion house was still grieving his loss. We worked for a year and a half to ensure a smooth transition, and now we know what we want to do. We are doubling our efforts every season—it’s exploding!
Yes, Y/Project is expanding fast. A lot of work goes into that with sales, production…
Yes, things are coming together. We are working to make the company stronger. Our team is like a big family. It’s nice.
And you won the Grand Prix at the 2017 ANDAM Awards!
What a wonderful treat! After winning the award, we received some excellent press and we also attracted many new buyers. It’s true that when a jury of thirty people, including the CEO of one of the biggest brands in fashion, as well as people who have followed fashion for years, decide that you are mature enough and your product is good enough to win an award, it’s a good sign that you’re one the right track. And the prize money will help strengthen our team. I am also fortunate to have as my mentor Francesca Bellettini, CEO of Saint Laurent, which is perfect because I haven’t worked for a big fashion house since my early days at Gaultier. And it’s true that Y/Project has come together through trial and error, with a few missteps here and there, so having a mentor will give us a better idea of what we need to do going forward.
Do you feel a kinship with any other designers? Do you feel part of a specific generation of designers?
Some designers are nicer than others! I like Johanna Senyk, the creator of Wanda Nylon, and Julien Dossena, the creative director at Paco Rabanne. I think we feel there is a new generation when we are fortunate enough to belong to one. We are all very different, but it’s interesting.
You also show many Belgian influences, especially from Margiela.
People often mention the Belgian side. I think every designer from my generation has to have a Margiela influence because he created a new language that we grew up with and used to develop our own identity. I even think you could talk about a Margiela school in fashion today. When I look at Dries Van Noten or Raf Simons, I don’t really see any visual connection between us. I think it lies instead in the idea of conceptualism, the fact that we all grew up in Belgium and that we learned to find things beautiful by adopting different perspectives. It’s a more intellectual approach that looks behind the walls. For example, we would never make a dress just because we think it’s beautiful, there has to be a concept behind it.
How do expect your fashion house to evolve? Do you want to see it expand or would you rather it stayed independent?
We have no desire to see anyone buy us out because we want to keep our creative independence. I work with Arnaud Lajeunie and Ursina Gysi. We operate as a true collaborative trio, and I could never go along with someone forcing an agency or stylist on me, for example. It’s true that we are growing with each season, and so perhaps at some point we’ll need investors to be able to move forward, but we will have to stay independent. Our brand is experiencing natural growth, we are adding products little by little. I don’t want to burn myself out with collections and pre-collections. I like when each piece has a twist. It’s very important for me to look closely at each detail. It has to stay fun and enjoyable.
You don’t have any stores yet. Do you plan to open any?
No, that is still a long way off. I would love to do it one day, but I think it’s still too early.
If you could sum up your fashion house in just one word, what would it be?
Eclectic. We use whatever we want to use to create our clothing. We mix genres and styles. We say yes to everything.
Do you have an ideal woman in mind for your clothing?
Any woman. Most of my clothes are versatile, a lot of pieces can change character. We invite our customers to ask themselves one question every morning: “What do I want to be today, more sexy or more conceptual?” And many times the same piece can answer that question in different ways. My grandmother wears Y/Project. I want all sorts of people to identify with the brand. In a sense it’s the diversity of Paris that we are trying to discover and celebrate.