I had a quaint little memory the other day—a naive fashion reverie, if you will. Just before the pandemic, we were all taking bets in the GQ office on who would dare to wear a skirt first. God, were we ever so young? At this point, even though I’m still mostly seeing my coworkers on Zoom, I can see that everyone is going WILD with their wardrobes—skirts, dresses, crop tops, see-through smocks. The idea that you’d be bold to wear a skirt at a men’s fashion magazine? Kid’s stuff!
You can see that energy on the streets, too: everyone is wearing whatever they want. The crazier, actually, the better. The chaos of the past year, from the protests to the politics to the pandemic, led to an increasing demand, among millennials and Gen Zers, for more radical ideas. But people aren’t just dressing wildly in America. “It’s happening in London as well,” A-Cold-Wall’s Samuel Ross told me last week—and, according to every designer I’ve spoken to this week, all over the world. Individual expression is almost like a global imperative now—and almost a political act. This is one of the many big changes that took place this year: we all became freaks! Everyone got cooler. More experimental. People are dressing more exuberantly, with more energy.
That means it’s the perfect time for a designer like Glenn Martens, the founder of the twisted Belgian brand Y/Project, to take over Diesel, the irreverent Italian denim label founded almost 50 years ago by Renzo Rosso. Martens is a denim head, which makes him a nice fit for an iconoclastic jeans line, but he’s also a certified freak—a metalhead who has brought us a series of striking pieces: oversize coats and boots (the absolute unit!), totally twisted Uggs, and comedy gold trompe l’oeil (…trompe lol?).
Thanks in part to those creations, he’s one of the most influential designers of his generation—his fingerprints were all over the thesis collections of recent fashion school graduates, who clearly adore his demento-couture construction. With Diesel, which he officially joined in late October as the company’s first-ever creative director, he has the opportunity to push his wildest ideas broadly. There’s a chance, he explained in a Zoom call from Millan last week, to secure real influence beyond the fashion sphere, to actually change the way people make and think about clothes. “It’s much more than a fashion brand,” Martens said of Diesel. “It’s a global brand, meaning it’s a brand that talks to every single person, regardless of age, sexuality, religion, the amount of money they make. Everybody potentially can be Diesel, and it’s also all over the world. So you have quite a lot of power in that way. And [by] a lot of power, I mean the responsibility to change things.”
That last bit, for him, is the whole point. “If I wanted to just have my ego satisfied,” he continued, “I would have just worked in another luxury house.”
Martens is one of a growing number of designers of his generation—he is 38—who sees the potential of a mass brand as more appealing than the prestige of the luxury sector. One of his first orders of business, for example, was sustainability, which is no small feat considering that denim is one of the world’s most polluting fabrics. His goal is for 40% of Diesel’s denim to eventually come from its new sustainable Denim Library; accordingly, he changed the supply chain of the entire company in his first six months on the job. “We have a lot of deadstock, which we are reusing in some creative ways,” he said. Some of those pieces appeared on the runway Tuesday, including T-shirts that have been cut up and woven together, and a rad suit made from leftover brown paper packaging. Upcycling is a big part of what he’ll do—and while that’s become a fashion-world buzzword over the past year, it’s a much different challenge for a brand of Diesel’s scale.
But the flipside of those challenges is a unique sort of opportunity. “We’re not a luxury brand, and we will never be,” said Martens. “We’re really the alternative to luxury. Which doesn’t mean you have to do boring things.” Take the collection video that debuted on Monday, directed by 28-year-old Londoner: a Run Lola Run-esque redhead speeds through a dreamlike series of settings—party, office, utopia—wearing what Martens called “a cliche of denim: white T-shirt and pants.” The T-shirt is anchored by a complementary belt, slung around the waist with bandolier attitude and anchoring the shirt, while the jeans are baggy boot-pants-in-one. (Of course, because it’s Martens, even the cliche is hard to explain.) A quilted getup looks like medieval dinner party wear and a satire of luxury logo prints all at once. There are also long, embossed fitted denim coats, stonewash jeans, acidwash jeans, oversize and skinny and everything in between—all crazy, and nothing you’ve seen before. Basics can’t be, well, basic anymore. The new global freakdom demands a new standard. Seems Martens is here just in time, for rappers and freak-normies alike.