INTERVIEW WITH GLENN MARTENS.

Honest By’s new collaboration with Paris based label Y/Project launched on October 19th 2017. Discover here below Bruno Pieters’ interview with Y/Project Creative Director Glenn Martens. 

I MET GLENN MARTENS IN THE SPRING OF 2006. I HAD JUST BEEN ASKED BY WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK TO REPLACE MRS LINDA LOPPA AND TEACH THE MASTER CLASS AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS IN ANTWERP. MARTENS WAS NOT ONE OF MY STUDENTS, HE WAS STILL A BACHELOR. BUT HE WAS A REGULAR FIT MODEL FOR MANY OF THE PUPILS IN MY CLASSROOM. GLENN WAS A VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD YOUNG MAN WITH A RATHER UNIQUE SENSE OF HUMOUR. BUT THERE WAS ALSO A WARMTH TO HIM THAT MADE ONE FEEL AT EASE IN HIS PRESENCE. HIS TALENT WAS UNDENIABLE AND I ADMIRED HIS APPROACH TO FASHION. TO ME FASHION HAD BECOME A CEREBRAL AND PAINFUL QUEST FOR PERFECTION. WHILE HE SAW FASHION AS CELEBRATION OF BEAUTY, AN ADDITIONAL FEAST FOR THE SENSES. HIS VISION WAS REFRESHING. AS MUCH AS I LOVED ANTWERP AND ITS FASHION SCENE I’D ALWAYS FIND IT STRANGE HOW LITTLE WE HELPED ONE ANOTHER. I REMEMBERED HOW HARD IT COULD BE FOR A YOUNG DESIGNER TO MAKE YOUR MARK IN A SOMETIMES RUTHLESS INDUSTRY. SO I TOOK IT UPON MYSELF TO MENTOR HIM. A ROLE I WAS GLAD TO TAKE ON. WE HAD A MUTUAL RESPECT FOR ONE ANOTHER AND APPRECIATED EACH OTHER’S TECHNICAL INVENTIONS. HE WAS HARD WORKING AND DEDICATED TO HIS CRAFT. ALL THE PROJECTS I INVOLVED HIM IN OR THE ONES HE UNDERTOOK ON HIS OWN WERE EXECUTED WITH THE UTMOST PROFESSIONALISM. IN MARCH 2012, AFTER HIS STINT AT JEAN PAUL GAULTIER, MARTENS FELT READY TO LAUNCH HIS OWN COLLECTION IN PARIS. IT WAS A BRAVE AND OFTEN CHALLENGING ENDEAVOUR BUT ONE THAT WOULD ULTIMATELY LEAD HIM TO WHERE HE IS NOW. AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE PARISIAN FASHION SCENE. WE MET AGAIN LAST YEAR IN OUR MUTUAL HOMETOWN, BRUGES. HE HAD ASKED ME TO BE ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IN HIS AUTUMN WINTER CAMPAIGN. HE SEEMED CONTENT AND PROUD OF WHAT HE HAD ACHIEVED AT Y/PROJECT. AND SO WAS I. I REALISED THAT GLENN WAS ABLE TO TAKE THE BEST OF WHAT WAS OFFERED TO HIM AND TURN IT INTO HIS OWN. HE TOLD ME HE ADMIRED MY WORK AT HONEST BY. AND BELIEVED THAT TRANSPARENCY WOULD BE CRUCIAL TO FUTURE GENERATIONS. I ASKED HIM IF HE’D BE WILLING TO DO A COLLABORATION WITH US AS I WAS CONVINCED HE WAS NOW IN A POSITION WHERE HE COULD INSPIRE A NEW GENERATION TO CREATE IN A RESPONSIBLE WAY. GLENN DIDN’T HESITATE AND ACCEPTED THE INVITATION. HE WAS VERY MUCH AWARE OF THE URGENT NEED FOR CHANGE IN THE INDUSTRY AND WANTED TO HELP IN ANY WAY HE COULD. YES, I WAS VERY PROUD OF HIM.

By Bruno Pieters
Photography: Arnaud Lajeunie 
Discover here below Bruno Pieters’ interview with Glenn Martens. 

BP. Congratulations on your latest show. I thought it was majestic in every way. There were so many intricate details and unexpected combinations. Great work. What part of the process do you love most.
GM.Thank you! Coming from you, this means a lot! I am extremely spoiled. In all those years at Y/Project I never dreaded going to the office once. I love my job and this means I love every single step of the process. It definitely also means I love working with my team. I know it's extremely corny but it’s been a great pleasure and a huge honour going through all of this together with them.

BP. Why did you accept my invitation to create a collection for Honest By?
GM. I have followed Honest By since its launch. To me it has always been one of the most ground breaking luxury brands in the industry. A lot of young, so called hype brands, are claiming they want to change fashion or break the industry. But only Honest By has challenged its core and has addressed that which really matters. 

BP. Thank you. Were you or Gilles (Gilles Elaouf is CEO at Y/project ) ever concerned about Honest By’s 100% transparency policy? 
GM. Our Paris office counts 20 people, we have 15 different nationalities in our studio. We’re producing in many countries in- and outside of Europe. Each country has its specialty. Europe has lost a lot of its craftsmanship over the last few decades. I visit every single factory we work with. Because I want to know who is sewing my designs and of course I want to know for sure that the working conditions for every single person behind this brand are good. It’s been a wonderful journey and the people making our products are very proud of being a part of our story. I’m just as proud of the clothes that have a “made in Tunisia” label than the ones that have a “made in France” label. We have nothing to hide. 

BP. That’s wonderful. I think there is nothing wrong with “Made in Tunisia" or Romania… either. What I find disagreeable are luxury brands who produce in Tunisia or Romania but have their workers sew in a “made in France” label. But I’m sure that will change once the customer becomes more aware of this. For me, sustainability minus transparency equals fantasy. It’s basically hot air in my opinion. I believe it is crucial for the customer to have all the information about a product so they know exactly what they are buying. But I know it might be difficult to be open up about everything. Was there a challenge in this collaboration you didn’t anticipate? 
GM.We’ve always been straight foreword. Transparency is not an issue. Summing up every single button, listing down every single step of the process demands more logistic effort, but it wasn't that hard in the end.

BP. I’m glad to hear that and I’m very happy with the result of this collaboration. So many people still want to make transparency seem unrealistic. But I guess when you have nothing to hide it isn’t so hard to do. I want to know more about the beautiful images you made with Arnaud for us. What was the inspiration for the Honest By Y/Project campaign?
GM. The campaign is about honesty. My friend and long time collaborator Arnaud Lajeunie wanted to shoot the campaign in a very honest and transparent way. We took the clothes, called up Franziska, our model and friend, spent an afternoon at Arnaud’s house drinking, eating, smoking, talking and shooting. There was no make-up, no hair, no set, the whole process was very natural, spontaneous. It felt as if we were just chilling at home. 

BP. The result is beautiful and so elegant. You have found a great ally in Arnaud. And in Ursina of course. They are both very positive people. When I met them I was glad to see that they both really have your back. A question about the business now. You have singlehandedly grown Y/Project into a business with a 5 million annual turnover. How important are numbers to you?
GM. It’s never been a one man show. Half of the credits go to my business partner, Y/Project’s CEO, Gilles Elalouf, who believed in me and gave me the chance and the platform to build this story.  Furthermore I put a lot of trust in my team. This business is all about teamwork. The numbers indeed keep on growing. The pace can be quite destabilising at times but I try to focus on my work and have fun at the same time. 

BP. In the past you have said that it was difficult for you and your team to work with GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) fabrics as the quantities for such materials were very high. Is that still an obstacle today? 
GM. We are including GOTS materials into the collection. As not all of our fabrics are certified yet, we are not communicating about it at the moment. 

BP. That is great news. Personally I believe being honest is more important than being perfect. But I understand what you mean. Where do you believe you have made improvements over the last few years when it comes to materials? What are you proud of and what do you want to improve still? 
GM. When I took over Y/Project 4 years ago the collection consisted of about 80% leatherwear. Even though leather is part of our original DNA, you won’t find one single leather piece in our last womenswear collection. We’ve also been using a lot of linen. Belgian linen. One of the most environmental friendly materials. We even managed to include linen in our footwear. I’m definitely trying to be more eco-friendly and consistent in our fabric selection.

BP. That is an incredible accomplishment. Ever since you were a student you have also been strongly opposed to fur. That also meant that as a young designer you had to refuse sponsorship from SAGA furs or the Belgian Fur lobby (the infiltration of the fur lobby in Design schools is still legal in most countries around the world). What made you say no to that kind of support.
GM. I always thought fur to be extremely beautiful. It is also a very fragile product which requires a lot of care. I therefore believe it is a totally dated product. The beauty doesn’t make up for the cruelty which goes together with the production of such garments. We do sometimes use leather and I won’t say we’ll totally stop using leather in the future. We are careful in selecting our tanneries and try to use leather in timeless pieces which have a real day to day value. I own a leather jacket myself. I have it for about 15 years now, I wear it all year round in all sorts of situation and it still looks perfect. In winter I wear my grandfather’s shearling coat. There is something sustainable about wearing the same piece for decades and than eventually pass it on to younger generations. It’s therefore imperial for me to aim for quality and not support cheap leather products from big chains. We sometimes do use a fake fur in some of our showpieces. Critics might say fake fur is polluting too. But I also believe fashion can be about flirting with art. Art will never fill in the basic needs of survival and is therefore always polluting in a way. I recently read an article where it was mentioned that studies showed that the impact of a mink coat on our environment is three to ten times (depending on the design of the coat) higher than the impact of a faux-fur coat.

BP. Do you feel schools  such as the Royal Academy in Antwerp or La Cambre in Brussels should make a greater effort in supporting young students who want to work in a responsible way? 
GM. School is about educating the next generation. I believe it’s a pedagogic duty to teach how to take better care of our planet.

BP. Did you ever feel like an outsider when you were studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp?
GM. Everybody in my year was extremely independent and colourful in their very own personal way, meaning we were all kind of outsiders. I’ve always loved diversity. I feel very comfortable in eclectic surroundings. School was good!

BP. What are your hopes for the future? 
GM. If you see how talented human kind is at destroying this planet I just hope there really is a future. 

BP. What is for you the most interesting era in human history? And why? 
GM. All of them, I love history. It’s extremely fascinating to me to see that every single thing we do is conditioned by thousands of years of independent stories.

BP. What do you wish you could sustain? 
GM. Tolerance.

BP. How ‘green’ are you in your own life? 
GM. I try as much as I can. I’m the kind of person who prefers to wear layers of clothes at home in stead of putting on the heating. And even though I love eating meat I try to ban that industry from my life. I am vegetarian in weekdays. I allow myself some meat during the weekend only and I will pay more to enjoy an organic and local steak. 

BP. Both your grandparents were in your A/W campaign. What have you learned from them that you will cherish for the rest of your life? 
GM. Unconditional love

BP. Thank you for this interview and thank you for shining new light on the work we do by accepting my invitation. 
GM. Thank you. 

Thank you: Glenn Martens, Gilles Elaouf, Aranud Lajeunie, Robin Meason, Virginia Visan, Siidaa Aberra, Aline Kästli, Model Franziska, Rosalinde Heerkens,  Lot Doms, Jonas Van De Mierop and everyone involved. Discover more about Y/Project on www.yproject.fr