Glenn Martens and Bianca O'Brian photographed by Antoine Harinthe


By Armelle Leturcq

Probably the most unexpected collaboration, the association between Parisian-based brand Y/Project and cult shoemakers Ugg made waves at men’s and women’s fall 2018 fashion weeks as models graced the runway with oversized thigh-high sheepskin boots. Today, the collaboration finally hits the stores and comes with a beautiful campaign which captures the reunion of two opposite aesthetics. We chatted with Glenn Martens about working with Ugg and the fast-pace evolution of Y/Project.

You’re coming out with a new campaign to showcase the Ugg x Y/Project collaboration. It’s not easy to create shoe campaigns. You constantly need to find new ideas.

The idea of the campaign came at the same time as the shoe. It was the deal with Ugg, to have visuals to accompany the collaboration. We introduced it with menswear and then we continued it with stilettos on womenswear. It was important to celebrate that story.

How did using classical artists spring into your mind?

They’re all French artists. One is Cabanel, Napoleon III’s favorite painter. We mixed a bit of every era with Simon Vouet and François Boucher. They’re all re-editions of digitalized French paintings. It’s a sort of dig at something iconic. The initial idea was to showcase the Venus. Ugg is a shoe brand that was invented for surfers in California and the Venus is clearly surfing in that painting. (laughs) The Ugg boot is legendary and called for an iconic visual with gods and half gods. I also wanted to translate a contemporary feeling and an eclectic side to those historical paintings.

How did the collaboration with Ugg come about?

Anna Howes reached out to me in spring of 2017 to ask me to collaborate. In general, I’m not a big fan of collaborations so this was a first for me. I accepted because I found the shoe very challenging. It’s such a straight-forward shoe. When you put your foot in it, you understand its purpose right away: warm up freezing toes after surfing in the ocean. It was fun to divert that and give the shoe our two identities.

When will the collection hit the stores?

It launches on September 20th. We wanted to work with high-end boutiques and concept stores. We’ll soon start organizing all the happenings. (laughs)

How was the production process?

Ugg have their own factory so it was easy. (laughs) The only thing they asked us was to help them develop the stilettos, since they’ve never done any heels. We really didn’t feel any stress during production. I loved that all their leather comes from leftovers from the meat industry. With Y/Project we try to work on being more sustainable. I worked with the Belgian brand Honest by recently, which is very focused on ecology. At Y/Project we don’t produce that much, we’re here to make people dream. We’re on a more artistic level so we can be more flexible. When we use jersey, we make sure it’s monitored. We try to work more and more with linen, since it’s one of the fabrics that has the least impact on the environment.

The biggest problem comes from the big fast-fashion brands who pollute a lot. The bigger the production, the more disastrous are the consequences.

Yes, that’s true. When you are a luxury brand, so many people copy you so you have to set a good example. It’s a responsibility to take into account. We, at Y/Project, don’t really consider ourselves particularly green, we are here to create atmospheres. On the other hand, Bruno Pieters from Honest by, with whom I’ve worked last year, is a designer who absolutely wants to produce in Europe and remain transparent on every detail.

Do you have other collaboration projects in the near future?

Collaboration can only happen when you feel a strong connection. For me, Ugg was really worth it. I’m not interested in a series of collaborations with this or that brand of sneakers. The other potential collabs would be on products we can’t produce ourselves. For example, sunglasses, which are impossible de develop as independents.

And how are things going at Y/Project?

It’s great even if things move a bit too fast sometimes. In four years we’ve accomplished a lot. We went from four employees to twenty-five, from ten stores to a hundred and seventy. It’s growing steadily. My boss wanted to do logo and I disagreed from the start. Thanks to that, we managed to have a more stable growth. Everything stems from the clothing. We had time to build our brand more naturally, without show-off branding. Even if the Ugg collaboration has the potential to break the internet. (laughs) We’re currently looking for new offices. It’s the third time we move in four years. (laughs) Now that we are twenty-five plus the interns and the freelances, we need to stay in the center of Paris. I don’t want my nineteen-year-old interns to walk back home from Saint-Ouen every night.

Are you still independent?

Yes, completely.

What about your next fashion show?

I don’t even know where it will be, I haven’t found the place. We had one but they cancelled so we’re a bit stressed.

What is your secret to combat stress?

Everything starts to look like a routine so stress goes away. Of course, we’re stressed before a show but even that becomes a repetition. Sometimes we receive the show pieces four days before, we’ve gotten used to it. I think it’s the same in big fashion houses so we’re good. (laughs)

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