“There’s only one time in my life when I can do a gown with a 15-meter train,” Glenn Martens said during a preview of his one-off couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier, pacing the same sunlit workroom where the now-retired founder once received editors and made final adjustments to his designs.
Martens took many signatures from his Y/Project brand — skirts that seem to hang from bodysuits, 3D metal flowers, wire-rigged fabrics and his “seam allowance” technique — and merged them with Gaultier favorites like corsetry, sailor stripes and Aran knits.
The Belgian designer is certainly familiar with these iconic looks, having been recruited by Gaultier as junior designer for his women’s pre-collection and the G2 men’s label in 2008, when Martens graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
Back in the house almost 15 years later as its second guest couturier (Sacai’s Chitose Abe was first), Martens went gaga for gowns, which he makes only occasionally at Y/Project. Most were sexy, body-hugging columns with lively surface treatments: here layers of optical tiger stripes; there a mash-up of lace and ribbons trapped under tulle.
Some gowns, with a fog of molded black organza enveloping the silhouette, or trailing crinkled, undulating mounds of fabric that brought to mind a tongue of lava, telegraphed a more medieval mood, no doubt a wink to the Gothic architecture in Martens’ hometown of Bruges.
Occasionally his exuberance for the atelier’s capabilities went a bit too far, as in the knit, V-neck sailor dress with each stripe sprouting branches of coral, giving the model a bristled appearance.
Forgoing the usual raised catwalk at Gaultier, Martens had his models stalk a dark space divided by black chiffon curtains, and flooded with eerie electronic sounds. The serious mood was worlds away from the campy, cabaret energy favored by the founder, who was present and mobbed by old friends and new admirers.
But Martens did his best Gaultier impression by bounding out for his bow, smiling broadly and waving to the seamstresses cheering from the rafters.