What is it with Paris and Belgians? With Raf Simons’ scoop of the top job at Dior exciting insiders and Anthony Vaccarello‘s dresses making their presence felt in fashion, it seems it’s a love affair that’s not about to end. Glenn Martens is the latest export, a new kid on the block who has recently been busy bestowing his vision on the City of Light. His first womenswear collection was a subtle mix of tailoring and sartorial subversion with nods to androgyny and the medieval. We sat down with him to find out how his début went, what, exactly, his new collection is trying to say and what a typical day at the studio looks like.
Whereabouts in Belgium were you born? And where did you study fashion?
I was born in Germany, but we left when I was 3 years old. I don’t really have memories of that time. My parents are Belgian, though, and I grew up in Brugge, which I guess is pretty fascinating when you’re a child. Being surrounded with all that history and amazing buildings – as well as the waves of tourists – must have influenced me when it comes to my style. I studied fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and, in fact, it was my second degree, as I had studied architecture in Ghent first and graduated when I was 21. I guess I was into fashion when I was a teenager, but I didn’t think you could actually study it.
Can you describe your aesthetic in one sentence?
My pieces are fairly constructed and there’s a lot of research involved in the way we do things, with an architectural and graphic quality.
Which message did you want to deliver with this first collection?
I was trying to come up with a timeless proposal, something you could build on for several years and continue in the long-term. This time, I really had to reflect on my taste and what I was into. When I studied at the Academy, I already had a sense of what I liked. This collection focussed on duality and a feeling of versatility. Belgium, also, is made up of contrasts, opposite elements that I find quite poetic. I wanted to mix tougher-looking fabrics -such as boiled wool – with fluid silks. There’s a melancholy in Brugge, which continues to inspire me.
Why and when did you move to Paris?
It happened 3 months after I graduated from the Academy. I was offered a job at Jean-Paul Gaultier and decided to move there. I was not going to say no.
What does being a Belgian designer in Paris mean now?
I guess there’s a seriousness, a humility and conceptual subtlety in Belgian fashion, but, at the same time, Belgian designers have very different personalities. What Dries Van Noten does, for instance, has nothing to do with the work of Raf Simons or Ann Demeulemeester. I don’t know if Belgian fashion can be envisaged as a whole, to be honest.
That’s a very good point. Where is your collection produced?
The collection is produced in France and Belgium.
How big is your team?
Officially, it’s 2 people, which is not that big. We have interns helping us, too.
As a young designer, what are the main challenges you face?
Doing everything in a small team can be challenging. You cannot focus on design only; you need to be a business person, to know how to organize events and deal with production. You have to dedicate yourself to it completely. It’s a lot of work, and it feels like climbing up mountains at times, but you just keep going, I suppose.
What does a typical day at the studio look like?
I start at around 8h30 and check my emails before the interns arrive. At 10h30, we have a coffee break and start working on the actual collection. Then I make soup at lunchtime, which people seem to enjoy. The interns leave at around 7 and I probably work until 8 or 9.
What do you do to relax and get out of the fashion world?
I go to Belgium regularly to see my family and friends. And getting drunk in Paris tends to help! I easily go from one extreme to another. I can be a party animal, but I also love travelling around France and visiting castles, churches and enjoying classical art.
You’re like a granny in a rockstar’s body! What are the five websites you check out every day?
What are your plans for the coming months? Will you be spending the summer months in Paris?
We’re currently developing the new collection, which will be showcased at the end of September. This summer, I’ll visit my brother who’s currently based in Bali and I’ll be babysitting there. I’m very good at it.