NEW IN STORE: Y-PROJECT
The good, the bad and the ugly. A trio of labels that were once relied upon religiously. But at some point, the tables turned, because over the last fifty years, the greatest and most original moments in fashion were those born from an exploration and violation of those definitions. It seems there’s something special lurking within the bounds of ‘bad taste’.
Someone who knows bad taste is Glenn Martens. In fact, he’s obsessed with it. Since becoming Creative Director of Y-Project in 2013 (which arrives at STIJL this season) the Antwerp Academy alumnus has pushed every boundary of beauty that he could find. “We want to be a brand that raises questions,” the designer says. “We often play with the codes of good and bad taste. There’s a lot of humour of course, and a lot of winks left and right.” Perhaps it’s was his light-hearted approach that helped Y-Project to win the prestigious ANDAM Prize earlier this year, but most likely, it’s due to Martens’ innate ability to turn something conventionally understood to be ugly into something so achingly cool. Funny how fashion works like that.
The designer wasn’t always so offbeat. He remembers a time, growing up in Bruges among the city’s medieval architecture, when he was obsessed with the codes of traditional Western beauty. It was only when Martens matured as a designer that he felt the urge to confront the concept of classical. “I wanted something that challenged me more,” he explains. “Indeed, anything can be high or low taste, it all depends on the attitude. Once you understand this, you free yourself from a lot of boundaries.”
It’s without restrictions that Martens has been able to embrace every area of fashion – high and low, formal and casual, male and female. “I would never be able to do nothing but streetwear, as I would never be able to do only sophisticated silhouettes. I need to touch everything, and I’m curious. I need to know how the body works, how a cocktail dress works, how tailoring works… I want to play with everything."
For Autumn/Winter 2017, that playful curiosity finds itself juxtaposing references of royalty and hip hop icons. “We imagined Tupac as the Henry VIII of the ‘90s,” he explains, “so you’ll see these renaissance sleeves in nylon bombers.” We also spot sumptuous silk playboy shirts with excessive sleeves pooling around the wrists that unbutton to reveal identical versions within and five-pocket jeans with two waistlines, the lower part lacing up with gold chains – a perfect remix of medieval corsetry and rapper’s bling. And to top it off, the lovechild of ugly and convention, is a pair of sludge-coloured corduroys stacked with layers of obsolete turn ups, everywhere, of course, but at the hem.
But it’s not just in witty references and imaginative repurposing that Y-Project treads a unique path in the industry, though. Having cut his teeth working on Bruno Pieters’ revolutionarily sustainable Honest By label, Martens says, “I was really educated into ethical thinking, it’s something I care for,” continuing, “I think it’s nice to get to know the people who are making your clothes, and to see how they live their lives. They are as important as my design team in the chain of this product.”
In ethos and product, then, Y-Project proposes something rare in an industry based all too often on mindless buzz and duplication. It’s something Martens is justly proud of: “A lot of brands create armies – when you wear the brand you become one of them – with us it’s more about pushing the individuality. You really have to reflect upon yourself and think about how you want to wear something."