This piece appears as part of "Not In Paris," an online exhibition hosted and curated by Highsnobiety. Head here to see the full series.
In Paris, the current home base of Y/Project’s creative director Glenn Martens, lockdown restrictions only started to ease in mid May. It meant next to restaurants, cafés, and bars, most businesses could re-open, and a travel declaration was no longer needed for travel outside one’s place of residence. Running a global fashion label was low on that priority list. Nevertheless, Martens had a collection to design, produce, and now launch.
“We really went for it, but the thing is, of course it’s a challenge to make everything from a distance,” says Martens over the phone during his "Not In Paris" shoot, the videos of which are featured throughout this article. The challenge was met with creative thinking; Martens got creative.
At Y/Project’s core lies versatility. Through clever construction, most garments can be worn multiple ways, fitting any person’s individuality. It also makes a more durable purchase. So despite Y/PROJECT’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection — exclusively launched on Highsnobiety — being a much smaller range, styling the same item in multiple ways enabled Martens and his team to create 41 silhouettes. “It’s actually bigger than expected,” he notes.
The collection was strictly shot on Paris-based models, aligned with the local government’s quarantine advice. “We didn’t really do a proper casting — there are actually a few team members and fitting models in there as well.”
Back to versatility, which Martens has become a virtuoso in since he took over the helm of the brand in 2013. Under his watchful eye, Y/Project has become his own, by merging references from historical bourgeoisie with the aesthetic codes found in contemporary street culture. The brand takes much from his Belgian hometown of Bruges, the Venice of the North, where clashes between the city’s impressive gothic architecture and rich history, and its cheap food stalls, souvenir ships, and neon lighting, can be observed everywhere, Martens once explained to me.
For "Not In Paris," the Belgian designer wanted to go back to the brand’s roots by zooming in on versatility, presenting the seasonless-ness and functionality in the process for the first time. “We’ve made videos of how to wear certain pieces in different ways, it's very documentary orientated,” says Martens, who teamed up with photographer Arnaud Lajeunie and stylist Robbie Spencer.
And there’s more. In addition to presenting new Spring/Summer 2021 pieces, Martens, as part of the same collection, is launching "Evergreen." The sustainable", 100 percent eco-friendly, unisex line features twelve iconic Y/Project signature classics from previous seasons, reinterpreted for today’s consumer and available year-round.
Here, Martens opens up about the importance of versatility, his "Evergreen" launch, and ultimately showcases how Y/Project is really worn. For your pleasure, and ours.
"What we really want to push in this collection is our versatility and variability. Even though you don't see it, we often used the same pair of pants, which are worn completely differently, so we can shoot them twice and you don't really see it.
There are actually three reasons for the versatility in our collections. First of all, I think Y/Project is really a brand based on diversity and individuality. We really try to create all different kinds of personalities, because I think that's a little bit where we want to go and it's the mishmash of all different people. Sometimes it can come off as chaotic, but it’s a creative chaos."
"Then, the clothes themselves also have to be diverse. It means a lot of them are designed to be adaptable to a certain person, for example making sure that a jacket will never look the same on two different people. When you buy a jacket or pants, you really have to own it and reflect on the way in which it will be a prolongation of your personality. It [challenges] you to not hide behind a brand as a status symbol. Again, you’re reflecting who you are and how you are going to own this jacket.
So it's really about celebration of diversity — and then there’s also, of course, the fun factor. Garments become adjustable depending on your mood. Then, it’s actually also a sustainable way of thinking: If a dress can be worn three, four different ways, you can constantly wear it differently for different occasions and situations."
"Something we've been working on for the last six months is a carryover green collection, where we have specific, very recognizable Y/Project pieces from the past. Again, these items can be adjusted, changed, and styled differently. All are produced in ethical and sustainable ways — it’s a fully certified carry-over label — which are included throughout the lookbook. If you know the history of some of the pieces, they might remind you of things you’ve seen in the past."
"These "Evergreen" pieces will never go in markdown, and we want to add more and more pieces to it. But it took some time because there’s a whole new way of sourcing, shipping, and packaging. Then there’s the branding, labeling, and tagging. It was a big challenge.
The denim for instance isn’t going to be washed anymore in production. Instead, it’s going to be lazered and treated differently. We’re also going to always use the same fabrics for this, in order for us to reach the bigger minimums, which usually can be tricky. We can now buy way more concentrated, which is a good way of thinking for younger brands wanting to be sustainable. This way, it also fits the system of respect. You respect your clothes that you’ve been developing for a long time."
"Why should good designs only deserve one season? They should deserve a longer period of time. Fashion isn’t just about consumption, it's also about craftsmanship. I think today we're all very consumer orientated and that wasn't really the whole starting point. Fashion has always been about the beauty to dream, the creativity, the expression."
How It's Worn
"We have tracksuits with colored piping around them, with jersey. When you buy them, you have two independent tracksuits in traditional colors, which are snapped together on the side seams. You can decide to wear them as a single tracksuit or decide to wear them snapped together.
With the snapping system, you can have this whole piece completely seamless down, which creates a whole deconstructive vibe. Then you can completely flip it around, which changes the color. One side is blue, the other is beige and green. The only way to get it fully gray is when you wear them together. If you wear them separately, it's always half gray, half beige. What you can also do is always slick them down or start buttoning it up, creating a kind of Y/Project flower [silhouette], as we call them. And it really offers a kind of draping."
"The T-shirts are actually three T-shirts on top of each other. Again, depending on how you flip it, you can wear the green one or the blue one, or multiply them together. And they also have a snap situation where you can create drapes.
Then we also have very simple T-shirts with very subtle colors. All the backs have slits, so you can wear it as a very basic T-shirt, yet you also have a split at the arm hole, a split in the neckline — you can [play around] with this. You can also wear it as a halter top; with the elastics you can create a crop top in multiple ways.
For one of my very first collections, we made T-shirts with prints that referenced hip-hop and pop artists, which we replaced with historical figures. For this collection, we did the same thing. So we have Elizabeth Taylor [in Cleopatra] actually on an album of Aaliyah in the front and Caesar in the back, as Aaliyah [controversially] was reportedly married to R. Kelly, who was, like, twice her age. Cleopatra had something similar with Caesar, who was triple her age.
Another T-shirt has Tupac’s All Eyez on Me [on it], which refers to Caesar, who wanted all eyes on him. It’s a continuation of the concept of including historic people in Y/Project. The brand is a very rich brand in its design and garment construction, which actually make it quite luxurious with sports and streetwear fabrics, without it being classified as such."
"The first two suits [in the lookbook] are fully covered in a printed jersey. The jersey has references of a very traditional British check, the other one is just gray. Basically, that suit has a tailored lapel in the front while the rest is covered in jersey. It's a bit like a crystal, which gives it a bit of suiting structure, but you’re actually wearing a second skin-like jersey with ropes and drawstrings. So depending on your mood, you can drape up your jersey to create crazy drapes, or you can slick it down to make it more uniform and simple. On top of that, it's crazy comfortable.
Overall, I think we’re really pushed by this whole eclectic vibe of the collection, it's really about this mismatch of people with different kinds of backgrounds. It’s really what the brand stands for — extending somebody's personality instead of having people hiding behind it. We have to embrace [personality and clothing], play with it, and own it. That's the challenge."
Are you also "Not In Paris?" Not to worry, you too can join in on the non-gathering with our exclusive set of merch. Shop the collection here.