Glenn Martens, the creative director of Y/Project and denim brand Diesel, has a firm grip on some of fashion’s key constituencies. Fashion kids love him: My Instagram and Twitter feeds this week and last have been overwhelmed with images of his Fall 2022 menswear collection and his special collaboration with the house of Jean-Paul Gaultier for Paris Couture. (“Make sure to zoom because it’s INSANE,” says the writer José Crisales, a northern Twitter and Instagram star on HF.) Avant-garde snobs love it, as its massively crafty fabric stacks have quickly established it as Margiela’s sidekick for the internet age – a mainstream misanthrope whose clothes can hang alongside brands like Hood By Air, Rick Owens and Vaquera. And Ye loves it too: On his infamous second date with Julia Fox, he brought her to a hotel room filled with Martens’ Diesel clothes, presenting her with pieces from the Spring 2022 collection and not yet going out before fall. Since then, she regularly wears her combination of boots and denim pants.
Martens isn’t sure how that date with Diesel went, by the way. “I didn’t even know they did!” he said on the phone last week. “Kanye really likes my job; I think he’s always been a big Y/Project fan. So it’s something that happened very naturally. I have no idea how he got all the samples – I should ask my PR!”
In truth, the main man Martens has had in mind lately is Jean-Paul Gaultier, whose brand announced in January 2020 that it would be reviving its tailoring business by bringing in a guest designer each season to interpret the work of its founder. Martens is the second designer to take the gig (Sacai’s Chitose Abe was the first), and her couture show, which took place on Wednesday, was definitely the coolest of the week: tulle bundled and draped in flattering dress shapes and futuristic; ribbons laced and stretched and loosened on the body in a sculpted negligee; denim rolled up in a dress of belt loops; and pointed, corseted and sparkly knits. Women’s fashion is in a swing of taste right now. The clothes are either extraordinarily tasteful, as with Valentino’s flawless dresses on models of all ages and body shapes, or deliberately nasty, as at Schiaparelli, who made hats with golden brains for the crown and put on trims rococo on fitted bodices. (Schiaparelli is also responsible for the cone-breasted denim jacket that Julia Fox trotted through Paris on Sunday, but the cone-breasted, in fact, is gaultierism.) Martens navigates a more creative path, creating unfamiliar garments that don’t never depend on gags, although it is often, like the work of the other four great fashion comedians, Gaultier, Yohji Yamamoto, Palace and Supreme, quite funny. Not funny slapstick; more like you see someone walk through it and think, “What’s up? this guy okay?” In our age of shock and awe, that’s a pretty special thing to do.
For those outside of the couture demographic, the menswear collection he showed off late last week during Paris Men’s Fashion Week was steeped in gaultierisms. The work of the French designer, who retired at the start of 2020, is experiencing a huge and undeniable revival. Part of what’s interesting about young people’s fascination with Gaultier is that, unlike other ’90s phenoms who had revivals, like Giorgio Armani or Martin Margiela, you certainly couldn’t get away with it today. with most of what Gaultier did in the 1990s. His clothing focused on the cultural melting pot, and he saw appropriation, cultural collision, and offense as part of his mandate as a classic French provocateur. He gathered religious clothing and traditional clothing from the Global South, and leaned into heteronormative style, designing clothing that encapsulates the chaos of a rapidly globalizing world and the culture wars of the time. Designers may notice their mesh print tops and distinctive silhouettes (like the Ottolinger brand), but when a designer tries to play with clothing and cultural codes as they did in their heyday, they are often criticized for it ( this is the case for Marine Serre, in any case).
Martens’ couture was fairly apolitical, but his ready-to-wear, while not formally a collaboration with Gaultier, was more wittily in conversation with Gaultier and therefore bolder. For one thing, he worked for the designer, so he’s a step ahead of anyone trying to make Gaultier for today. (He did the couture collection with Gaultier’s team, but had his own team replicate Gaultierisms for ready-to-wear.) As for the Martens’ men’s release, the Gaultier-east part was a series of pieces in knit and viscose printed with breasts. and genitals. Gaultier made similar x-ray or trompe-l’oeil prints between 1995 and 1997, but Martens gave it a twist by layering and mixing the men’s and women’s pieces. A euphoric expression of genderfucking, perhaps. Or, in our body-obsessed age, a commentary on the transphobic fetishization of genitalia – a truly hilarious phrase to write or read, but contemporary when right-handers are obsessed with policing our physical forms with a force so horrifying that one wonders if all they do is sit and imagine naked people. Or: it could be incredibly offensive! Bodies as a fashion statement? Classic Gaultier. But I didn’t see anyone complaining.
What makes Martens so attractive and his work so dynamic? It’s certainly not that he spends all day browsing Depop fashion accounts and Instagram archives, which some young designers do; he told me that he tries as much as possible to stay out of the fashion world to avoid seeing the work of other designers. What I think works is how it looks like a garment on clothing, on the mixture of style codes (like prep or raver) rather than social or political. Often clothes have odd layers of fabric, or turn the utilitarian, like buttons, collars, or sleeves, into decorative, making the wearer feel like a bit of a designer themselves. It’s the touchstone of streetwear – the way you put your own spin on something – but it’s rarely done in high fashion these days, or with such a technical obsession. It is the rare complicated and confusing clothes, more than $1000 headache for the buyer.
He is also aware that he occupies an atypical, even singular place in fashion. When I spoke with Martens last year at the reveal of her debut collection for Diesel, our conversation confirmed to me just how weird each other’s style had become over the previous year. It’s almost impossible to find anything standard or basic these days; every type of clothing has become fashionable, a cynic might say, or, if you want to be happier about it, everyone has gotten really weird with their style.
“Y/Project is such an individual brand,” he told me last week. “We have such a particular language that I don’t feel competition from any other brand. Same thing with Diesel. We are not luxury; we are not mainstream. We are somewhere in the middle.