Y/Project, the men’s and women’s label designed by Glenn Martens, is proudly avant-garde: Unisex tracksuits have wires in the seams to give arms and legs exaggerated, painterly volume; jeans can be turned into short-shorts; fabulous thigh-high boots are made in collaboration with that decidedly unfabulous early-aughts mainstay Uggs. But just because some of the clothes are challenging doesn’t mean they’re forbidding. Y/Project is an affectionate endeavor, and one dedicated to inclusion.
Martens stresses that point at his overstuffed 10th arrondissement atelier-office, which is bursting with bolts of fabric, piles of patterns, and racks of clothes that threaten to crowd out his growing team. (Martens won last year’s ANDAM prize, which came with 250,000 euros, just at the right time: A new space is coming soon.) It’s the month between men’s and women’s fashion weeks, and everyone is working nights and weekends. “Stephanie D’heygere, who does our belts and jewelry, is a good friend from school, and Emilie Meldem, who does our embroidery, is my old flatmate,” Martens says. “We schedule meetings after six so we can shift into drinks and dinner and leave work behind.” Ursina Gysi, the brand’s stylist, pops in as Martens is in midsentence. He teases her for taking cabs home from the dive bar down the road from the office—their de facto executive lounge—even though she lives around the corner. “You get drunk so easily!” he cracks.
Martens grew up in the straitlaced Belgian town of Bruges, earned a degree in interior design, and eventually turned to fashion, hoping to continue his studies in “something creative.” When he interviewed at the famed Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, “I didn’t even know how to pronounce ‘Margiela,’ ” he admits, referring to the school’s most famous alumnus. The learning curve was steep, but Martens found inspiration in his peers. “Everybody in that school was superflamboyant. Crazy creatures! No one was the norm. I loved it.”
After graduation, Martens worked for the designer Bruno Pieters and consulted for companies like Hugo Boss. In 2012, he put out a minimalist line under his own name, but running an independent label from his tiny apartment burned him out. Martens was happy to take a full-time job when Y/Project hired him the following year, after the company’s founding designer, Yohann Serfaty, passed away from cancer. Martens was soon offered the top post, and he swiftly transformed the label, which had specialized in leather men’s wear, by artfully remaking everyday items like polo shirts, tracksuits, and jeans.