Designer Glenn Martens Looks to History to Create Savvy Spring Styles

Designer Glenn Martens Looks to History to Create Savvy Spring Styles
Glenn Martens Spring 2013 Campaign
(Courtesy Glenn Martens)

Twenty-nine-year-old Glenn Martens, who will present his sophomore collection in Paris on Sunday, is quite the history buff. He’s obsessed with all things medieval and fascinated by French heritage, and is a veritable expert when it comes to early Flemish painters. One may think it would be difficult to imbue these interests into the fibers of a covetable ready-to-wear collection. Until they see Martens’s spring 2013 collection, of course.

Martens’s fall collection was all about clean, complex construction (which was rooted in his background in architecture). His silhouettes were plays on those found in Flemish artwork and the clothes were at once easy and sophisticated. The designer expands on this for spring, putting forth structured looks with surprise details. For example, cropped pants reveal sheer chiffon panels when they move and miniskirts are hidden beneath what look like long origami wings. A demure white maxi dress in crinkle silk is toughened up with architectural layers and cut outs, and the structured layers of a champagne duchess satin workwear trench are cinched with a matching belt.

The designer experiments with new fabrics this season, the most interesting of which are a netted wool (which looks particularly cool on a bomber vest) and a bronze tweed made from recycled plastic. “I think that we often think something is beautiful because of our own subjectivity. But if you just look from a different point of view, you can find beauty in anything. That’s why I went for some fabrics that normally I’m not a fan of,” explained the designer. His cream denim pieces, like an impeccable top with shoulder zips and volume in all the right places, were also crisp and clever. But it’s Martens’s prints that are especially intriguing.

This season, Martens developed a seemingly organic print out of fractured images of the work of Flemish Primitive artists, like Jan van Eyck. “I cut out parts of the dresses from their paintings and made them into prints,” said Martens, pointing out a remnant of an artist’s rending of brocade. Martens also collaborated with Toby de Silva, a British photographer based in China, on a series of abstracted skull prints. The images, which feature eerie skulls atop gems and gold, were spawned out of de Silva’s series “Immoral,” which was inspired by Roman martyrs. “I’m a child of the ’90s, so I really like to work with this strong elegance and then clash it against something that’s a little bit disgusting,” said Martens, noting the contrast between his soft, feminine satins or silks and the Doc Martens shoes he plans to pair with each look is a perfect example of said clash. 

Martens will debut his collection this Sunday at Le Chapelle Expiatoire, a 19th-century chapel dedicated to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Naturally, thanks to his fondness for history, the designer is thrilled to be showing in the landmark. “The idea is to discover the collection while you walk around the space,” said the Martens, expressing a particular interest in the chapel’s crypt. He may be interested in the past, but his forward-thinking designers will indeed appeal to a savvy, contemporary woman.