Glenn Martens

Glenn Martens, a bright young women’s wear designer who had graduated first in his class from The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 2008, presented his memorable first signature collection during AW12 Paris Fashion Week in February.

Inspired by his home town Bruges in Belgium as a historical art spot, the collection is composed by the architectural cuts and vertical lines which are represented by the innovative use of long panelings, and it results in structural elegance and also those slits and layers actualise the comfortable fit of each garment as daily wear.

The subtle crossover of tailoring and sporty aspects gives the collection both graphically impressive and physically functional, and the finish is chic but girly at the same time. When you see the collection, you will find a modern minimalist woman with multifarious faces, from an intellectual matured chic lady to a mischievous tomboy in her adolescence. It looks like she is quietly emotional, and covertly has a straightforward attitude. interviewed with the Paris-based Belgian designer and asked him about his background and life as well as the idea behind the collection.

―How did you get interested in fashion and eventually made your path to The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp?

I’ve always been interested in fashion but when growing up in a tiny provincial town in Bruges it never occurs to one that this actually is something you can study for. After high school I went for interior architecture. I graduated at the age of 21 and was much too young and unprepared to enter the world of working people. So I searched for something else to study.

By that time I did hear of the Antwerp academy and decided to give it a shot, went to entrance exams, was one of the 70 accepted so I just went for it! I didn’t properly think it through…during the first pattern-making class I cracked up seeing myself sitting there behind that sewing machine. I wasn’t aware that would actually have to stitch those things I drew together… and that this would stay, until now, one of my main occupations. By now it’s one of the things I love the most about this job: searching volumes, making moulages, stitching toiles… it’s mentally relieving and it calms me down.

―What did you gain from the academy life and experience in assisting some fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yohan Serfaty and recently in Bruno Pieters?

Studying at the academy truly is an eye-opening experience! The level is high and work is tough. For those 4 years the only thing you do is going to school and spending the rest of your time at home working on your projects. Your fellow classmates are a selection of the most extravagant, colourful and creative people from world wide (90% of the students are from abroad). By the end they truly become your family. The pressure is that high that I’m suspecting everybody to go slightly mental once in a while. Nothing seemed to surprise me anymore once I finished school there.

Working for Gaultier, Serfaty and “Bruno Pieters for Weekday” made me taste all steps of the business: from couture to the small designer to confection (Weekday being part of H&M). They were all as interesting and exciting. A perfect and needed preparation for starting up my own label!

―Regarding to your first collection, I heard that the main inspiration was your home town Bruges in Belgium as a historical art place and gothic architecture in there. How did you apply those artistic/historical aspects to your women’s wear collection with modern minimal aesthetics?

This debut is the first collection from many more to come, I tried to concrete down the aesthetics of the label, for now and for the future. I dissected my personal world, studied what I love, what touches or moves me, to come to the conclusion that on all different platforms, may it be music, art, film etc… all I love relates back to my personal view on the city where I grew up in.

Bruges has this unique vibe of a medieval metropolis that fell asleep when the river leading to the harbour sanded at the beginning of the Renaissance era. The economy died so the city stopped growing. Now it’s a small provincial town re-invented as a hotspot for mass-tourism.

The clinch of those 2 worlds is fascinating. You’ll find Christmas shops open all year long, thousands of chocolate boutiques, neonlights etc… but all will blend into the austere graceful silhouette of the the city’s Gothic architecture. A quite surreal world go up in.

―What is the idea behind the distinctive vertical cuts and long panelings?

Being an interior architect I think I’ll always reflect my love for architecture, structures and construction into what I do. Also into the garments. The verticality relates directly to the sleek Gothic cathedrals. That graphic cut elongates the silhouette and guides your eye up to the smile of the woman wearing the piece. No line is only there for the beauty of the graphism. Every seam, every dart has its story and is from imperative importance to the total construction of each garment.

―The collection demonstrates the contrast and crossover of opposite elements, such as tailored and sporty items, chic and girly colours, high-heels and platform trainers. For me It looks the women in your collection are like ‘modern intellectual tomboys with a sense of chic’ … what are the femininity and the ideal image of women that you reflected to the collection?

This duality translates the clinch of worlds I talked about earlier. Furtherwise I do believe having tried to reflect all women in this collection. Each piece has its secret. there are many ways to adapt the collection to your own person. There’s always a hidden slit, a transparent layer which caresses the body… you’ll be discovering the piece little by little. For this I do think the collection relates to all women… a woman with a secret, and every woman has her secret!

―I have not actually taken your collection into my hands yet so can you tell me your secret twists in the garments which we cant recognise from pictures?

Skirts and dresses are formed by a well studied pleat work. When moving up your belt you’ll personalise the piece, emphasising hip- or waistlines. On other pieces there are zips opening up silhouettes, or sleeking them down. layers and sleeves can be taken off… It will always relate to your own taste.

―This is still your first collection but how do you describe your design aesthetics and signature style? Then do you think you are one of the very Belgian-ish/Anterp-ish designer?

I do think I’ve developed a certain signature. Of course no designer stops growing but my main codes will always be elegance, femininity… translated through an architectural cut and a touch of surrealism.

Jefferson Hack wrote about my graduate collection at the academy that I was the most “Belgian -ish” designer of that year. Since the launch of the label I’ve been hearing that again quite often, so I suppose it has to be a way of describing my work.

―What do you wear and what kind of music do you listen to everyday?

I’m a young designer working off his ass to survive;) So my wardrobe by now is still existing out of cheap vintage in combination with some designer pieces I’ve received during former jobs. I do work 16h a day 7 on 7 so therefore I can’t really be that bothered about my looks. Unless I’m out for a meeting, you’ll mainly see me running around in some comfy jeans and a sweater.

My music taste is very broad. I’ll switch from classics to electro. Still, my “top 25 most played”-list on itunes counts a lot of Archive, The Black Keys, Blonde Redhead, Light Asylum, Koudlam, french baroque (Lully) and some singer songwriters (Georges Brassens or Barbara).

―Do you have any specific designers you really like? If so tell me the reasons too.

I do appreciate a lot of designers. All for very different reasons. As long as they have identity and bring freshness to the craft in their own personal way. Raf Simons for his renewing proportions, Dries Van Noten or Proenza Schouler for their colour and material-use, YSL by Pilatti for the elegance….

―Do you think the collection is absolutely for women or a kind of unisex which can be worn by men? Then are you interested in doing men’s wear or more unisex looks in the future? Personally I would like to see them.

The collection is drawn for women. We did receive a lot personal order requests from men. Even our grey skirt seems appealing for guys. In former jobs i’ve always designed on both men- and womencollections. I believe my old work for men has always been successfully and I truly enjoy drawing for them. I would love to have the opportunity to continue that one day… when the time is right.


Interview, Text:Yasuyuki Asano

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