On a FaceTime call the day before Y/Project’s Glenn Martens unveils his vision of Gaultier haute couture—the second designer to do so, after Chitose Abe of Sacai last season—Martens was doing what he does so well: Exuding grace (and humor) under pressure. And make no mistake, the pressure is indeed on. “Apparently, with couture, you finish it the minute before it goes on the runway,” Martens said, with a laugh. “So, we are a bit stressed, but not for the first time.”
One of the looks he was furiously working on, viewed courtesy of a 360-degree spin around via his iPhone, is a Breton marinière which has been turned into a dress and then hand-embroidered to ripple 3D-style with hundreds of faux coral fronds. The sailor stripes are pure Gaultier, yet the twists to this dress—the folded-over shoulder line, the knit panel which sinuously and unexpectedly juts out from the left hip—are pure Martens at Y/Project. (The designer, as you likely know, is also currently kicking it out of the park at Diesel.)
In essence, that’s what makes this collection so magical, so right and—not a quality that should ever be underestimated—so much fun. At today’s show Martens gave us at a joyful, escapist exercise in what you can do when you’re let loose in the wunderateliers that are the Gaultier workrooms, and you yourself are a designer who’s not exactly averse to getting a little inventive, maybe even a little crazy, with the construction and execution of your work.
“I am only doing this for one season, so it’s not like I have to envision a whole new future for the house; that’s a very different exercise,” Martens said. “This is a celebration of Gaultier. I’ve stayed close to the woman Jean Paul created in the past—pure diva goddess beauty, hips, whatever, all that drama he loved. I’m building on that through what I think of his iconic Gaultier moments. This marinière…it’s so him, but I completely fucked it up with all the fake coral spikes. I’m reinventing those iconic moments in my own way.”
That’s what makes Martens’s version of Gaultier couture fly: the acknowledgement that it can’t be a retread of the past glories of one of fashion’s greatest designers, but instead honor what went before and incorporate the best of yourself. It is not C as in collaboration ( a word which is looking increasingly passé) but C as in conversation, a constant state of respectfully going back and forth between incoming designer and the heritage of the house. (Martens revealed that at the time of speaking, Monsieur Gaultier had seen nothing, and would first do so at the show.)
That marinière dress was sandwiched between a series of corseted jacquard knit looks, whose body molding striations recall ’90s Gaultier (which Martens had already riffed on at his own Y/Project show, showcasing a few JPG RTW pieces of his design) and plenty of gorgeous, ethereal evening dresses, confections of chiffon selvedge, whose lightness were amplified by the ferocious ingenuity of their barely visible inner constructions. One, in black chiffon across a delicately pale pink corset, was a particular knockout.
The interaction between the two visions continued with an evening gown in a boudoir-y, peignoir-y ’30s peach (v. Gaultier) which looked like a deconstructed corset, the lacing asymmetrically blown up across the billowing skirts (v. Martens), while a cream knit sweater dress featured cable panels (v. Gaultier) that intersected, baring a little skin along the way (v. Martens). Elsewhere, those wired experimental volumes Martens loves so much figured prominently, in red velvet or green taffeta, as did a wink-wink to Y/Project with the Y shaping of the hips on some of his silhouettes, his own version of the classic hourglass but reimagined for today.
Martens was drafted in to do this collection two years ago, so because of the pandemic, it has been in gestation for a while. Yet, despite that, it feels hardwired to the moment. While it will very likely appeal to Gaultier couture loyalists—Martens mentioned on our Face Time call that in fact some clients had already been to the atelier for a preview—it will also speak to today’s fashion-savvy IG generation who applaud every big gesture and historically savvy flourish. (Step forward that corset-lace top with floor-sweeping denims, for instance, or his version of the colorful print mesh that Gaultier had such a wicked way with.)
Signing Martens up to take on the mantle of designer for one season was a canny and prescient move, given that his star is now firmly in the ascendant. He’s highly unlikely to care too much about any kind of exaltation of himself —he’s refreshingly immune to industry B.S. for one thing, and for another, he’s an avowed team player; his run of show for this collection singled out by name those petites mains and modelistes who worked on each outfit. Yet this haute couture effort, not to mention his recent strong Y/Project offering and his reimagining of Diesel, is all making Martens look pretty darn unstoppable right now.
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This article was originally published on Vogue.com.