WORDS BY JADE BROCK
It’s fair to say there have been a handful of designers who have been moving the needle within the fashion industry as of late. One such designer? Newly appointed Diesel Creative Director, Glenn Martens. Rather fittingly, things have gone full circle for Martens, who recalls buying a pair of Diesel jeans in the late ‘90s as one of his first notable purchases. With Martens now at the creative helm, the original ‘designer denim’ brand is serious about making a much anticipated comeback.
Who is Glenn Martens?
The Creative Director of Diesel and Y/Project, Glenn Martens is part of Paris’ new guard of fashion designers spearheading the streetwear revolution by injecting humour into conceptual, forward-thinking collections. Originally from Bruges, Belgium, Martens stumbled upon the fashion industry by accident.
What inspired you to become a fashion designer?
“After I graduated from high school, I felt I needed to do something creative. I started studying interior architecture where I met really creative people who told me about a famous fashion academy in Antwerp, Belgium. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts accepted me and I immediately fell in love with this world.”
After graduating first in his class, Martens was offered a role at Jean Paul Gaultier as Junior Designer for its womenswear pre-collection and its menswear line G2. In 2012, he launched his eponymous label, which made its debut at Paris Fashion Week and ran for three seasons.
Martens took the creative helm of Y/Project in 2013, after working as First Assistant to the brand’s former Creative Director and late founder, Yohan Serfaty. A few years later, in October 2020, Martens raised curious eyebrows after taking the role of Diesel’s Creative Director. Known for his innovative approach to design, perhaps this would be the off-kilter match made in fashion heaven the brand was after.
The History of Y/Project
Paris-based label Y/Project was launched in 2010 by Yohan Serfaty. Small, artisanal and individual, it started out as a menswear label, with Martens introducing a womenswear line upon his arrival to the brand in 2013. In a few seasons, the Rick Owens-inspired streetwear label turned into a brand worn by millennials and A-listers alike. Drama and darkness is at the core of the label’s conceptual clothing, alongside a playful approach to proportion and deconstruction. Collections focus foremost on versatility, wearability and gender fluidity.
In 2017 Martens was awarded the ANDAM prize, one of fashion’s most respected international awards. He was granted €280,000 and a year-long mentorship from Francesca Bellettini, CEO and president of Yves Saint Laurent.
Y/Project has had many collaborative projects that have almost broken the internet. Lest we forget the brand’s collaboration with UGG. Shortly after their debut, the instantly iconic thigh-high boots were spotted on Rihanna at Coachella in 2018. Akin to putting your foot into a warm pot of butter, they certainly pushed conventional style boundaries — a trait synonymous with Glenn Martens.
For AW20, Y/Project dropped a collaboration with globally renowned outerwear brand Canada Goose. The six-piece unisex capsule of coats had a carefree and interpretive nature, echoing the conceptual spirit of Belgian designers. Deconstructed winter jackets showcased Martens’ ability to reinvent the classics with customisable volume. Think outerwear that’s cosy and well-insulated, while still serving a head-turning silhouette.
The History of Diesel
Since the brand’s launch in 1978, Diesel has pioneered alternative denim fabrications and thought-provoking advertising campaigns. Based in Italy, Diesel has a historical reputation for going against the grain. While other Italian brands chased trends, Diesel denim stayed true to its roots. Jeans were made with a worn-in effect, achieved by signature distressing and vintage-inspired details. This innovative yet retrospective approach catapulted Diesel to global success.
The label’s ability to raise eyebrows hasn’t wavered. In the ‘90s, Diesel ran a campaign where its tagline ‘For Successful Living’ was born. Diesel founder Renzo Rosso wanted to portray that if you were wearing Diesel, you were winning at life. It was undoubtedly one of the brand’s most controversial campaigns, tackling themes of race, gun violence and religion head-on. Arguably the most timely and infamous ad campaign from the house however was David LaChappelle's ‘Kissing Sailors’, which coincided with US President Clinton passing the country’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ act in 1995.
Martens is set to bring the rebellious energy back to Diesel, with a progressive nature that falls perfectly in line with the house’s boundary-pushing aesthetic. His aim is to remind the world why Diesel denim was popular in the first place. Martens’ first few months at the label were spent studying the company by sifting through its archives, learning how Diesel runs as a machine, figuring out how it moves and ultimately how to redirect it. His first full collection shown to the public was SS22, featuring the ‘Denim Library’ — a core collection of Diesel classics that will carry over from season to season.
The Future of Diesel
What would you say about Diesel's aesthetic and your vision for the brand?
“Diesel’s vision and plans for the future are extremely clear. On top of our focus to be a lifestyle brand, including social and environmental sustainability, we also have some of the greatest denim knowledge in the world and we intend to support and remember this.”
“My first big task at Diesel after my arrival was to question the full supply chain and our whole process of making garments. Over just six months, we had a complete rethink of the company’s entire production process. We developed the Diesel Library, consisting of essential denim pieces including not only jeans but also dresses, jackets and other clothing. These are the fundamental staples of the brand, envisioned and developed to be fully sustainable. This development was implemented in only six months. It’s amazing to see how fast this change happened. At Diesel, we want to make sure that our denim is the cleanest possible since transparency is part of our sustainability journey.”
Can you tell us more about the latest collection?
“Diesel is for everyone. No matter your background, unique story, gender or age, Diesel speaks to every person in some way. We also tried to reflect this inclusivity in the SS22 collection, which is very eclectic and transversal to allow people to wear the clothing easily. We want to represent the fun and active energy that the brand stands for. Diesel is all about explosions of fun and enjoying life. It’s an active brand and so the aim is to bring excitement in an experimental and unexpected way.”
Where do you usually find design inspiration?
“The inspiration for this collection is rooted in Diesel heritage and the brand’s core values. These values have been reworked and blended together with a more conceptual approach, which is visible on washes, treatments and mixed materials alongside colours and graphics. The brand has a very specific and unique language, and I wanted to start my first creative process at Diesel by celebrating the archive. It’s amazing to see how relevant and contemporary most of the garments present in Diesel’s archive still are today.”
What are your favourite Diesel items?
“First of all, the denim pieces — especially the basic and long-lasting ones from the Diesel Library collection. I love the jeans with integrating boots worn by the protagonist of the SS22 show video, it’s such a universal and versatile piece. Also, the more experimental printed and organza smock styles featuring cracked-paint motifs, and the psychedelic trainers.”
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