Glenn Martens has risen in the ranks of the fashion industry to capture something that brands are desperate to replicate: the ability to revamp established and forgotten brands, bringing them into the spotlight and transforming reputations along the way. But how did he get here?
Hailing from Belgium, Martens comes from a growing roster of Belgian-born or educated fashion designer heavyweights – the likes of which boast Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Demna (who went to University in Antwerp), and Dries Van Noten to name just a few. Attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Martens kept a relatively low profile in his early career – first pursuing interests in archaeology and history of art, before training to become an interior architect before stumbling into fashion.
From there, he entered the luxury fashion world, taking up a role as junior designer at Jean Paul Gaultier – in both womenswear pre-collection and on the offshoot label G2. At the same period, he founded his own label, which debuted at Paris Fashion Week and ran for three seasons.
However, it was Martens’ appointment at Y/Project that truly signalled the shift in the designer’s influence, vision and direction. Taking the helm from the label’s founder Yohan Sefarty after he passed away in 2013, Martens took to the role tentatively, and with consideration: taking the time to fully understand a brand that had been left in a state of mourning. It was perhaps this introspection that prompted its transformation; starting with a collection that paid tribute to the house’s codes, before pushing it towards a new, innovative direction.
Drawing on his previous studies in architecture and archeology, it was clear that Martens was preoccupied with structure: blending streetwear-esque silhouettes with a conceptual vision, and producing cohesive lines of unisex apparel that soon began attracting international attention. Breaking out from the swelling group of emerging designers in Paris to one of the highlights of fashion week, Martens engineered investment, hype, and the industry’s trained eye on Y/Project within a matter of seasons.
Creating a portfolio of signature design motifs which included ‘offbeat references’, Martens transformed Y/Project from what many saw as a Rick Owens-inspired brand, to one which the it-girls and celebrities of the last decade looked up to for inspiration. Rihanna wore a custom Y/Project piece, pushing the label further into the spotlight, whilst young people began to prioritise Y/Project both in their wardrobe and as the object of their attention.
In October 2020, it was announced that Martens would be taking the reins at Diesel, as well as continuing to design for Y/Project. It would be here that the designer fully blossomed into the cultural and stylistic pioneer that he has become today – all in a little under 2 years. First flirting with the brand by designing for its ‘red-ta’ label, Diesel soon submitted the whole company to Martens – recognising his ability to rework brand image. And that he did.
From his appointment to now, we’ve seen somewhat of a Diesel renaissance. Taking the brand of the 00s which, as Martens recalls, made his “Mother feel sexy” and updating it for today’s age was no mean feat – especially considering its period of relative obsolescence beforehand. What dipped in the 2010s has now become the subject of one of fashion’s most relevant major revivals. Martens’ Diesel sells out before it hits stores, is tapped by Rihanna fresh off the runway and is dictating an industry-wide shift.
With an AW22 show that became the highlight of Paris Fashion Week, Martens signposted a new era for Diesel, designers and fashion as a whole. We all know sex sells, but having huge, posed inflatable figures flank the runway in distinctive Diesel denim sure hammered that fact home. Pushing an agenda of distressed leather, belted miniskirts and dirty wash denim, this collection was one of Martens’ most successful yet: all because of his confident vision and established reputation.
It seems that Jean Paul Gaultier would agree – giving Martens the green light to design the brand’s couture line this season. Hinted at in his Y/Project collection but fully realised here, Martens’ ability to reimagine classic house design motifs was on full display. Trompe l’oeil dresses, miniskirts and tops paid homage to Gaultier’s iconic archival masculinity-bending jackets of the same technique, whilst couture gave Glenn the means to experiment: creating sculptural silhouettes, elevated craftsmanship and an entirely refreshing take on fashion.
With gowns from the JPG couture collection being fought over by A-Listers for the Oscars, teenagers lining the block for a chance to cop the latest Diesel and Bella Hadid donning the Y/Project ‘naked’ dresses, it seems all of Martens’ experience, expertise and innovation has collided this year. Gone are the days where he flew under the radar: in 2022, Glenn Martens is the designer on everyone’s lips, minds, and screens.
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