Meet Y/Project’s head designer Glenn Martens

Belgian designer Glenn Martens showing his new capsule collection at Joyce Harbour City

Joyce HK was given the privilege of being the first retailer worldwide to uncover Y/Project’s Spring Summer 2019 collection this past month. Along with this came a new extension capsule exclusively for Joyce – led by designer Glenn Martens who created a curated lineup of pieces that were reiterations of some of his most popular silhouettes from past collections. I sat with Glenn Martens for a morning coffee at the Upper House, as I got to unpack all the questions I had about the brand and how it operates.

Could you briefly explain what Y/Project is and how your involvement started?

Y/Project the brand had already existed before I came on, I started probably three years into their launch. The late founder and first creative director of Y/Project, Yohan Serfaty, passed away from cancer – which is when I was asked to take over. I had assisted for Yohan in the past at a different company.

How did you decide to move forward from there?

When I got there, obviously it was a really emotional situation – the entire company was mourning. Out of respect for Yohan, I decided to take a really slow transition with the brand in the beginning. It took me two years to exit Yohan’s world and fully go into mine. He had a really specific style, he was designing from his personality – he was his own fitting model. I showed Y/Project’s first womenswear collection two years after transitioning, and that’s when I could really say it signified the start of the Y/Project I was wanting to convey.

How do you feel about celebrity endorsements and the social media/blogger sphere?

It’s part of our reality and it’s something we have to embrace. It’s 2019. Of course, I’m very honoured when I see people I recognize wearing our pieces, but we don’t support it in a way where we try to engage the celebrities ourselves. They either buy it or source it from press agents. When we do make custom looks for celebrities for red carpet, we always make them pay the fee.

Is there a reason for why you’re trying to take such a hands off approach?

That’s our policy because we are a small brand: we are independent, never had an investor and never started with any money injections. We’ve really reached this level from real hard work and sacrifice, so if you want us – you have to really like us!

The whole concept of the brand is pushing individuality and versatility, and you’ll see on our catwalks there’s going to be a variance of people, because that reflects our society.  It’s all the different things inside of you – you can play the strong businessman, or a cutesy grandson. A bossy love child, a loving partner, and the trashy club kid. There’s so many different versions of yourself, and this brand is about celebrating all those facets.

When we talk about social media, there’s no real pattern to what direction we want to go. We repost editorials, things from shops, people wearing us. It’s about that eclectic vibe, inclusivity – like we never focus in on one celebrity. Of course, if I like them I’ll repost it, but they’re not our priority.

Who of the people you’ve seen wearing your pieces has taken you aback the most?

Erykah Badu. She always looks incredible and makes it really cool. And of course – Rihanna.

Is there an intention behind using your staff and interns in your campaigns rather than using models? Have you ever street casted a project?

It’s about diversity. We started these campaign concepts three years ago, we went back to my hometown and shot my close family and friends from childhood. Since them, we’ve been continuing this concept of only shooting people that really matter to the brand or who actually influence the brand. On the catwalks we street cast, for the campaigns it’s always people we know.

In your eyes, is there a certain attitude that should come with wearing Y/Project?

Opulence, a celebration, every single piece has a rich vibe. Like a never ending Chinese New Year!

Okay but what about the physicality of the person?

Depends. Our pieces are made to be versatile, so even with separate gender collections we encourage exploring both ends. Like a pair of pants could look really elegant on a man and super rough on a woman, or vice versa. It really depends on who the person is and how they feel when wearing our pieces in the moment. The idea is not to hide behind the piece, it should elevate your persona.

You often use excess fabric – like your four-layer t-shirt, jeans with a double waistband and billowing gathers on outerwear. Where do you see everyday wearability play out into your collection or is it something you try not to pay mind to?

It depends on the product. We actually never really claimed to be a streetwear brand or couture brand: we’re all of it together. Some pieces will definitely be trickier to wear, and some are really straight forward. The collection palette is diverse in that way, so it totally depends on what you’re eyeing. Sometimes when I’m designing, I’m very much aware about considering the wearability of the piece, but sometimes… I just don’t give a shit! Hahah. 

When you type in “Y/Project” on Google, the first suggestion is for “Y/Project UGG”. How did that collaboration come about?

They came to us, all of our collaborations have been organic in this way. It’s the era of collaborations.

Every designer has their own way of going about this, but we say no more often than not. Unless it’s a product I truly love, something I can’t produce myself, or a product that is so intriguing that it’s a challenge. For Ugg, it was the challenge.

It’s a hard boot to work with, it’s iconic and really honest in a way where the form really follows the concept: it was a functional boot made for the California beaches because when you were coming out of the Pacific Ocean, it was really cold and you needed insulation. It’s not really that pretty per say, though they never claimed to be either! I think it was an amazing challenge to try and create something with them that we could take ownership of. Not necessarily fashionable, just something that was very Ugg and very Y/Project.  

I guess it was also the first time your brand had gotten exposure to the more mainstream fashion customer. Retailers like Nordstrom’s, where it’s definitely not an Opening Ceremony or Dover Street Market – the everyday person.

Actually, I believe we still have pieces with them. We had a bigger stocklist before, but we’ve really honed in on our reach and now we only focus on nurturing our relationships with the best, and who have our best interests in mind as well. It is a brand that needs a bit of guidance, and some more time to be embraced. That’s why it is much more comfortable with retailers like Joyce, where they are open about pushing creativity – rather than trying to convince a more commercial retail giant of our worth.  

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