Evolution, not revolution. That's the way Belgian designer Glenn Martens approaches his collections as creative director of Y/Project.
His co-ed Fall/Winter 2019 show at Pitti Uomo 95 was no different. The streetwear-meets-couture reconstructed design aesthetic the brand is known and loved for was still present, but in an evolved form.
Hero pieces such as double-layered shoulder shirts, pop-up pants, structured, reworked tailoring, oversized Fair Isle wool sweaters, pearl hoop earrings, square-toed boots, football scarves depicting historical figures, and logoed leather belts were all there, but this time they came in new color variations, fabrics, and shapes.
The show was held in the holy corridor courtyard of the basilica of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, where industry attendees, along with hundreds of students from nearby universities and other locals invited by Martens, were handed small torches to guide them through the dark ancient halls of the church’s cloister. The flashlights were the show's main light source, making some of the detailing hard to see at times yet making the show’s setting all the more dramatic.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a magazine editor or a student in Pitti, you have to work together to see the show,” Martens explained backstage.
This democratic approach fitted the theme of the collection. Whereas a number of past seasons were one-size-fits-all, this time was about celebrating individuality. “A lot of the clothes are made in a way that you can change and adapt them, which should emphasize the feeling of making something more personal,” Martens told Highsnobiety, highlighting a coat that can be worn in seven ways.
Since taking the helm of the label in 2013, Martens together with business partner Gilles Elalouf has grown Y/Project into a critically acclaimed brand that was a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2016, won the ANDAM Award in 2017, and counts Rihanna and Gigi Hadid among its celebrity clients.
But the brand is about more than just hype. It has the business to back up the buzz. Y/Project currently boasts more than 150 stockists, up from 12 in 2013, while the brand reached €5 million (approximately $6 million) in revenue last year, up from €3 million (approximately $3.5 million) a year earlier.
It was in part the business decision to grow Y/Project's menswear business — the brand’s women’s line remains the main moneymaker — that brought Martens to Pitti in the first place, where he follows in the footsteps of past guest designers Raf Simons, Virgil Abloh, and Craig Green.
For this show, it also meant adding new product categories to the mix on the men’s side. New territories were explored with masculine footwear and bag lines, including square-toed Chelsea boots and Oxfords in baby blue and crocodile-embossed leather. There were also thigh-high options that came in sand suede and patent leather, the former colorway resembling Martens’ recent collaboration with UGG. The weekend bags, backpacks, and fanny packs, in part, came in nylon with brown leather frame structures built around them.
This outstanding collection was a balance of opulence and simplicity. Think knitwear and turtlenecks trapped in tulle, monochrome tracksuits with trims in bright hues and wide, corduroy trousers with art made out of the lines of the corduroy fabric. A special shout-out goes to the remarkable women’s earrings, which are sure to be a hit.
At the end of the show, the models lined up Vanessa Beecroft-style in the middle of the courtyard, light finally hovering above them. Only then could the audience, which rushed over through the muddy grass, see the meticulous craftsmanship up close. That rush, that excitement is a symbol of what’s to come for Y/Project when the collection hits stores later in the year.
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