Common Threads
Tatler Hong Kong|August 2021
Cult designer Glenn Martens is giving the denim label Diesel a high-fashion veneer while keeping its social fabric intact
Rosana Lai

Wearing a faded plaid shirt over a black tee and a single earring, Glenn Martens shifts uneasily in his chair while speaking from the office headquarters of Diesel in Breganze, Italy. Sipping an espresso from a tiny paper cup between breaths, the newly minted creative director of the designer denim label seems either stressed or excited, or simply over-caffeinated. “I have to admit I’m a very hyperactive person,” he says. “I’m very curious and like to put myself in different situations all the time.”

Diesel, founded in 1978 by Renzo Rosso, whose portfolio of fashion brands includes Maison Margiela, Marni, Amiri and Viktor & Rolf, reached global popularity during the Nineties, but its appeal has since waned considerably, with the label’s US division even filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019. In the hopes of reigniting its momentum, Rosso began a series of collaborations in 2018 called the Red Tag Project, including one with Martens, who was known for creating elaborate, provocative denim designs at the cult French label Y/Project. The reaction to his work led to his appointment as Diesel’s creative director last October, three years after artistic director Nicola Formichetti left the helm.

At the time of our interview, it is two weeks from unveiling his debut co-ed collection in Milan, and Martens is not used to seeing his designs being completed so close to showtime. Diesel’s production process is a huge departure, he says, from that of Y/Project, which he has helmed since the 2013 death of its founder, Yohan Serfaty, and where several prototypes are produced and tweaked by a team of 25 before the items are released.

“In the Nineties, I remember Diesel campaigns tackling taboos, talking about gay rights and supporting minorities”

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