Like a religious procession from centuries past, 3000 people on a winter night poured into Florence’s Santa Maria Novella church to witness something special.
The building was in darkness; torches handed to everybody who passed through the church doors, shone shaky spotlights on religious effigies, caught like crooks. But this strange, late evening venture into one of Italy’s most prolific buildings wasn’t for religious purposes: Pitti Uomo 95’s guest designer Y/Project—headed up by Bruges-born Glenn Martens—was taking over the space for the night.
Past the naves, through a garden and into a vast cloister attached to the church, thousands of people, including fashion students from the town (Martens’s request to make the show feel more democratic) gathered to see the brands’ Fall 2019 co-ed collection. A Chinese drum beat, hollow and ominous, slowly gained momentum, increasing in frequency until the sound grew bloodcurdling and strong. There were no lights to dim here—those of the guests guided the way.
It’s no surprise that Y/Project, a brand who notoriously reject the notion of simplicity for simplicity’s sake, chose such a memorable if forgivably compromising method in which to showcase their latest collection here at Pitti. Straightforwardness is something the brand has never dwelled on, especially not since Martens took over from Yohan Sefarty after his death in 2013.
Martens’s history with interior architecture—which he studied before settling in fashion—means he’s been toying with dimensions and proportions since his time at the brand began; from the opening look, it was no different here. A heavy piped, royal blue denim pantsuit that, when off the body almost resembled sofa covers, looked striking when worn. His tailoring – something that dominated this season – took the form of corduroy suits with kimono-like jackets; another herringbone number had skewed lapels and footballer broad shoulders. But perhaps the most sumptuous? A silk-lapel mint suit, styled with a seafoam shirt and a billowing faux leather jacket, further cementing the heavy leather trend for fall 2019.
In the womenswear, there was something slightly Celtic about his faux leather floor length pleated skirts, war-torn jacquards and nipple grazing, translucent tartan tops. The notion of history—something that Martens has addressed and successfully subverted during his time at Y/Project—came through in much of what was on show; the legendary setting only heightening it so. But just as his references hearken to the past, his methods of channeling them come hurtling forward several centuries too. In one look, a dress with over-long sleeves and a bustier cut neckline was printed with vintage patterns, like those worn by Scottish princesses—only Martens's rendition was produced in faux fur and paired with a pipe-legged jean-boot hybrid. And those jacquard knits? Many of them layered with tulle, to give a 3D pop effect.
Often, what Martens’s mind creates is so bizarre that it would warrant a second or third glance off the runway, but the brilliant component of his work is that you can see it existing on the streets anyway. The notion of ‘wearability’ is something plenty of designers have to reckon with, but it’s often used as a synonym for compromise. In the case of Y/Project, that’s never a question: these collections often feel like a ‘What’s Not Right About This Picture?’ puzzle from the pages of a children’s magazine. Only the ‘not right’ is merely unfamiliar, and we’re forced to use our inquisition to make pleasant sense of Martens’s singular and, despite what you might think perfectly wearable vision.
And it’s a confident one, too. It’s easy to forget there was once a time when Y/Project was in limbo; Martens waiting respectfully to make a full impact on a brand that had meant so much to its late founder and those around.
Now, as the brand becomes synonymous with the new man’s stylings, Martens is comfortable making his mark. “We chose a slow transition instead, moving away from Yohan’s [vision] into mine,” he told L’Officiel before the show. “But in the last three years, I’m very happy with the artistic direction of the brand,” he smiled. It shows. Thankfully, we are too.
View our favorite looks from the collection, below.