Glenn Martens is good. He’s so good, in fact, that most of the fashion world hardly saw him coming until he’d arrived. Now, as the chosen Guest Designer at Pitti Uomo 95, Martens has been given all-expenses-paid carte blanche and the keys to the city of Florence to stage a happening around Y/Project’s men’s Fall/Winter 19/20 collection on Wednesday evening.
After making his debut in Paris as a junior designer for Jean Paul Gaultier — like fellow Belgian mastermind Martin Margiela — Martens then successfully piloted his own brand and two years later became the Creative Director of Y/Project. Under his direction, the cutting-edge brand has ricocheted from street to haute, blurring the divide between mens- and womenswear to create it’s own re-contextualized style. Telescopic-seamed pants, jean jackets that seem to be melting, slinky dresses made from layers of colored nylon stockings, and a collaboration with Ugg that takes the suburbanite snow boots into thigh-high stiletto territory are all among Martens’ proportion-defying inventory.
Martens opted to stage Wednesday night’s show in the sprawling cloisters of one of the Renaissance city’s biggest jewels: the Santa Maria Novella church, a 14th century Gothic beauty. After two hectic days spent touring the Palazzos and churches of Florence, he took a quick break to discuss the show, gender-fluid fashion, and designing clothes that look like condoms.
REBECCA VOIGHT: What kind of show is this?
GLENN MARTENS: Pitti is a big thing in Florence, and this is the first time there has been a show in Santa Maria Novella’s basilica and two convents. I want this to be a democratic event, something more than a show. I wanted to invite the whole city.
VOIGHT: Have you been to Florence before?
MARTENS: Florence was the first city I visited outside of Belgium when I was 17. Instead of going to party in Berlin, I went here with a friend because I love history, castles and churches. At the Uffizi Gallery, we sighed for 15 minutes — it was so beautiful.
VOIGHT: Y/Project was an early adopter of gender fluidity. Do you think we will see a day when men and women will share a common wardrobe?
MARTENS: Four years ago, when we started doing oversized pants and broad-shouldered jackets for women, customers made a big deal about it. All of a sudden, about two and a half years ago, it was no longer an issue at all. There’s a fine line between going too far and being on it. I’m proud we’ve gained a reputation for being creative. It’s important to me that the clothes we produce project individuality and show personality. The same jacket on a guy can be super elegant, and on a woman super rough, or vice versa. The idea is that it’s the person who makes the clothes, and not the other way around.
VOIGHT: Looking at Y/Project’s men’s and women’s collections over the past year, there’s an elegant feminine side, and also a masculine edge. But then, men and women in both shows were wearing identical argyle sock dresses. They both looked incredible, and very different.
MARTENS: In the last women’s collection, we used a lot of pieces from the menswear — all the pants, for example.
VOIGHT: Y/Project women are into satin evening gowns and man pants?
MARTENS: Basically, everything is designed to be worn by both men and women. It can be super feminine or super masculine.
VOIGHT: You’ve been wrapping a lot lately. What’s that all about?
MARTENS: Yeah, we’re wrapping a lot. And we’re taking it forward in the Fall/Winter collection with prints.
VOIGHT: It looks like you’ve packaged the guys in shrink-wrap, you know what I mean?
MARTENS: Well, we call them condoms in the office, to be honest.
VOIGHT: The wraps look like the guys are about to pop out, like they’re kind of busting out. So the condoms are a small size for the big boys?
MARTENS: It’s really about being able to wear the same thing more than one way. It’s like: do I want this to be a Christo vibe, or do I want it to be a lot more like this super strong drapey vibe? And then again, I could become completely fed up and take off the wrap and just have a fake leather jacket. That’s what made me happy about this idea. One jacket can become four different jackets, depending on how you play with it.