Designer Glenn Martens speaks affectionately of the juxtaposition between the classical and contemporary embedded in his hometown of Bruges: “there’s a strong clash between austere Gothic architecture and the trashiness of modern-day kitsch; but growing up in the city has really influenced my aesthetic,” he says. “I think this is why I wanted to return there to shoot the new campaign; to reaffirm where I come from and also the codes of Y/Project.” Martens took hold of the brand’s creative reigns in 2013 upon co-founder Yohan Serfaty’s untimely death, subsequently propelling it towards cult status – a name to be uttered in the same breath as the emerging or reinvigorated design houses of Vetements, Jacquemus or Courrèges, with a cacophony of multifaceted and unexpected influences enabling it to stand out from the rest.
Pieces crafted for the S/S17 collection reaffirm Martens' curiosity in the intersection of modern and historical tropes, alluding not only to Parisian street style, but to the romantic dress of medieval Belgium. One particularly inspired design feature comes in the form of press studs and strings incorporated into trouser cuffs and sleeves, allowing the wearer to alter a garment’s length or shape in one swift movement: “During that era, particularly in the Netherlands, people would actually change their clothes without taking layers off: you’d just tug on a string depending on the climate, season, or mood,” says the designer.
The historic remains a pervasive theme throughout the campaign, with images manifesting as portraiture, or figures standing amidst a domestic market scene, as though straight from the canvases of Van Eyck, Vermeer or Steen. Photographer Arnaud Lajeunie was responsible for the sumptuous chiaroscuro lighting, the velvet of crimson ballooning sleeves and the creases of crisp starched cotton appearing as a painterly surface, styled by long-time Y/Projects collaborator and friend Ursina Gysi. “There are also multiple personalities depicted in the campaign”, explains Martens, “a mix of all different kinds of people – it is truly reflective of what we are attempting to represent as a brand”.
The assembly of models selected for the campaign are not only multifarious, but highly personal to Martens, and not models by profession. There are two of his lifelong childhood friends (one a psychologist and the other an owner of a design store); his godchildren (his goddaughter appears swathed in emerald chiffon, “posing like a diva”) and his grandparents (his grandfather was a colonel in the Belgian army, his grandmother the daughter of a general). Martens reflects upon the sense of family explored in the campaign and the opportunity the project provided for him to nourish the roots planted in the city he was born in: “it’s definitely something I needed to do. My mind is somewhat conservative; I like to stay very close to the people I love; people I work with and people I live with”.
Undoubtedly, all figures have had a poignant influence upon the designer’s life. However, it is the inclusion of his teacher Bruno Pieters, who tutored Martens at the famous Royal Academy of Fine Arts where he graduated from the fashion department in 2008, that feels particularly key. Alongside Martens, Pieters also coincidentally hails from the city of Bruges, serving to highlight Belgium’s more recent history as a city at the forefront of innovation within contemporary fashion design – a legacy that Martens is upholding with aplomb.