Interview: Y/PROJECT

“I do it with coffee and cigarettes.”

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Ever since taking the helm of Y/PROJECT in 2013, Glenn Martens has led the architectural Parisian fashion house into uncharted waters. A self-assured minimalist but also a “hopelessly romantic softie”, the Flemish designer has caused the label to grow and—more importantly—infused it with his personal sense of cool. “Basically, we’re having fun!”

When Glamcult chats to Glenn Martens, the Flemish designer is already finalizing his fifth collection for Y/PROJECT. Founded by Moroccan designer Yohan Serfaty in 2010, the fashion house attracted attention from the outset for its honest and somewhat sinister architectural pieces. Being asked to lead a label largely known for its charismatic founder—Serfaty tragically passed away—was, understandably, far from easy. “Those first few months were very emotional and rough,” Martens reflects. “Taking over the brand of somebody who recently passed away is just hard, there’s no other way to describe it. When Gilles, the CEO of Y/PROJECT, proposed that I took over the creative direction of the brand, I was obviously very flattered. But I also told him that I wasn’t the guy… First of all, with all respect for what Yohan had built, his aesthetic was opposite to mine. And secondly, I wasn’t sure how to impose myself on a team and client base in full mourning.”

Despite his initial hesitancy, Martens—at that time working for his young but successful eponymous womenswear label—decided to undertake the challenge. “After some long discussions, Gilles and I discovered a great deal of connection points in what we envisioned for the future of Y/PROJECT. It was a struggle at first. But it slowly became clear that the more freedom I was given, the healthier the brand behaves. Today, four seasons later, I’m proud of what we’ve reached. The first two seasons were proper transitions. For the last two seasons we’ve imposed our identity and freed the path to the future. Basically, we’re having fun!” Pondering what the original spirit of Y/PROJECT actually embodies, the 32-year-old designer first of all names the label’s (tough) attitude. “Yohan only proposed menswear,” he says, then adds, “but due to the cut and fit it often appealed to women. Versatility is another connection point.”

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Taking a look at Y/PROJECT’s autumn/winter 2015 collection, Martens’ personal mark has become surprisingly visible, as well as very successful. Presenting a wearable, gender-fluid collection, classic tailoring is mixed with futuristic textiles and experimental details. Most remarkably, Martens has injected Y/PROJECT with a heavy dose of subcultural references, giving the straightforward label an indefinable sense of raw romance. When asked to comment on Style.com’s recent description of his work as a “thoughtful approach to minimalism,” he concurs: “We don’t thrive on decoration. We aim for straightforward and honest designs, clear and clean both in line and proportions. I guess that’s minimalism.” There’s more to Martens’ take on Y/PROJECT, however. “I guess duality is my thing. I’ve always been quite determined; I don’t do things the ‘soft’ way. I’ve always worked several jobs to pay for my studies and, later on, for my personal collections. In school I stitched entire collections out of Emmaus curtains. I just jump on things… but in the end, I do think I’m a hopelessly romantic softie.”

If anything, Martens is—obviously—a child of his era. “I’m a ’90s kid,” he confirms. “That’s my comfort zone, and I’ve always more or less directly referred to it. I honestly don’t worry about being contemporary and timeless. The whole strength of this era, the culture we grew up in, is freedom. We’ve fought for personal identity and I’d love to reach that with my clothes. Personally, I rarely think about what I’ll wear; I’m totally comfortable in any situation. Whether it’s at a cocktail in Saint-Germain-des-Prés or a rave in the suburbs, I don’t dress to the occasion, unless it’s explicitly requested. I’ll just make sure my shoes shine when I visit my grandmother…” Speaking of fashion and gender, for Martens that’s never been an issue: “Y/PROJECT has always been gender fluid. Since day one I’ve been putting men’s coats on our women. It just wasn’t a ‘thing’ back then, so we never communicated it. I’ve always loved working on versatility and it’s simply a part of our fundaments.” In terms of process, the designer does make a distinction. “It’s one big overlapping collection. The base, concept, fabric use and global silhouette… it’s all the same. Nevertheless, both have a totally different approach of design. For guys the process is focused on emotions. Even with the most basic T-shirt you need constant reflection on the man wearing it. Women are more daring. The design process is therefore much more experimental and straightforward.”

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My house is your house and your house is mine. With Y/PROJECT’s latest presentations taking place in dim venues to pounding soundtracks, one wonders what club culture means to the label’s creative honcho. “My main inspiration comes from the street,” Martens says. “I’m that creepy guy staring at you in the metro. I love watching people, seeing what they wear and how their clothes affect them. I obviously do love clubbing but when we go out, we dress to it. We’re part of a scene. We’ll probably be more attractive than the little lady in the supermarket, but then again, she’s probably more interesting as inspiration.” That being said, his universe does contain a special place for music. “Fashion primordially senses the sight, but the creative process includes a world based on imagery, music, memories, friends, joy, pain… Music for sure guides me to reach the goal. My personal taste is quite eclectic. Being Belgian and raised in the ’90s, techno and house are part of my language. But I’m not at all professional. I rarely know what I’m actually listening to and let my friends discover new things for me. Regardless of genre or era, I just follow the crush. In one day I’ll jump from The Soft Moon to Danny Brown to Marin Marais to Portishead to 18+ to Gainsbourg.” Not just Belgium’s dance scene, also its history comes back in Martens’ work. “I’m the worst chauvinist!” he laughs. “For S/S16, I merged Y/PROJECT with gothic architecture, subtle references to my hometown of Bruges. I dismantled everyday basics to reconstruct them through graphic cuts and geometric shapes, elongating the silhouette, as if they stood in the reflection of a gothic cathedral.”

With Martens taking well-executed risks, Y/PROJECT is growing up fast. “In the last season we doubled menswear and tripled womenswear,” he cheerfully discloses. “I couldn’t be more happy. We’re just two people in the studio, each assisted by one intern. That’s four people producing four collections a year! I hope to strengthen the team as soon as possible, giving us some time to look back, develop and experiment. In the end you have to imagine we’re all just in our 20s or the beginning of our 30s. None of us are really ‘normal’, so I can assure you… it’s fun!” How exactly does the designer do it? “I’m not good with ‘ordinary’,” he shrugs. “I guess I’d like some routine. But then again, I’ll always go with the opposite. My jobs require me to be constantly on the move. I can’t remember being in Paris for longer than a week; I guess that gives me a feeling of freedom. But regardless of where and when I wake up, I do it with coffee and cigarettes. And I rarely go to bed without a nightcap. The worst of habits, but as they’re my only constants, I’ll stick to them for now…”

By Leendert Sonnevelt

Photography: Violette Esmeralda—Eric Elenbaas Agency

Styling: Venus Waterman—Eric Elenbaas Agency

Hair: Sharmaine Cox—The Book Agency

Make-up: Joanna Banach

Models: Isobella—nevs models, Soraya—nevs models, Afonso, Connor, Julia, Haluk, Max and Robyn

Assistant photography: Lois Cohen

 

All clothing A/W15

www.yproject.fr

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