Tucked away in a 600-square-foot studio, several floors above an old music venue in Paris, Y/Project’s Glenn Martens is turning out some of the most interesting and exciting clothes in fashion right now. His designs, adored and regularly shot by top stylists like Melanie Ward and Mel Ottenberg, are a postmodern mash-up of the romantic, the smartly tailored, and the streetwise—often in a single look. “What I do is a bit complicated,” the 33-year-old Belgian designer concedes. “But it works.”
Martens assumed the role of creative director of Y/Project in 2013, after its co-founder, Yohan Serfaty, passed away from cancer. The brooding underground men’s wear line has since evolved into a forward-thinking women’s label that, along with others like Vetements, Courrèges, and Jacquemus, is shaking up the Paris fashion establishment. Martens has also been named one of the eight finalists for this year’s LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers—the winner of which will be announced this month.
“When I took over, Y/Project was very different,” says Martens, a graduate—along with Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia—of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. “But in the past year, it’s become what I imagined it to be.” His ideas stem from all manner of periods and places—say, Gothic architecture or girls he sees on the subway—which he deftly adapts to his singular and very of-the-moment vision. “We put it all in,” Martens says. “And then we push it to the edge. I’m always asking myself, Are we going too far?”
His fall women’s collection, which he presented for the first time during Paris Fashion Week, was a supreme balancing act of rough and fragile, oversize and lean. Voluminous bishop-sleeve blouses were worn with slim denim pants; ruff-collar cotton shirts were paired with leather miniskirts. Biker pants, so long they were scrunched up to the knee, butched up a velvet-and-lace turtleneck, and a cutout bustier added a subtle touch of sex appeal to a matching glen paid overcoat. Martens completed many of the looks with cheap white pumps procured in Chinatown and tribal-looking earrings of his own design. “The whole collection is about freedom and absurdity,” he says. “We try to have fun, and I think that translates into the clothes.”