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Designer Glenn Martens Adores Royal Mistresses of Centuries Past

In our new column United Nations of Style, we'll be talking to the coolest, cuckoo craziest and most creative fashion designers around the world to hear what inspires them and what it's like to work in fashion where they live. Next up: Bruges-based Glenn Martens.

portrait glenn martens high res.jpgHow would you describe your design aesthetic?

I've often been described as presenting a mix of Belgian "concept," French "chic," and British "cool." I'm proud people see my work this way and I suppose by now it has to be a part of my DNA.

Where do your ideas come from? What are your design inspirations?

Anything can inspire me. Some things, of course, touch me more than others. I discovered that most things I love often relate back to my personal view of the city where I grew up. Bruges does have this unique vibe of a sleeping historic metropolis re-invented as a hotspot for mass-tourism. The aggression of neon lights and the overload of commercial souvenir-shops is bleeding into the sleek shadows of the city's Gothic architecture. It's opposite worlds fusing into a new surreal reality.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 4.59.46 PM.pngWho do you dream of dressing? If you could dress anyone, past or present, who would it be?

I love women, I love history. I love historic women. I feel their stories are a never-ending source of inspiration. I don't exactly design for a certain personality. I'm more fascinated by different types of women and I try to feel their world, imagine their life. I do admit that every few months there is a new story, a new character, who I'm obsessed by. When she strikes, I need to know all about her. In the past years I've flirted with Agnès Sorel, La Païva, Lee Miller, Romy Schneider. Lately I've been slightly obsessed by the life of Elizabeth Siddal -- one of history's first top models, the muse of the Pre-Raphaelites, a torn, independent woman with a tragic beauty. British model Bianca O'Brien, a dear friend of mine, often wears my clothes for our lookbooks or campaigns. Her resemblance to Elizabeth is striking. I'm always over-excited seeing my collections on her.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 5.00.05 PM.pngIf you weren't in fashion, what would you be doing?

Wherever I go I'm always obsessed by finding the most idyllic, honest places. I'm constantly redesigning in my head. So I guess I would go for urban or landscape architecture.

Describe the fashion and design community in your city.

Right now I'm in Paris, which is filled with fashion. It's a huge community where everybody seems to know one another. There's not many young independent designers in this city and therefore I feel quite blessed to have a bit of a particular place in this world. I go my own way and I don't feel much concurrence. But the whole community seems very peaceful and lovable to me.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 5.00.28 PM.png

How does the fashion and design in your city affect your personal style?

I have the feeling of doing five jobs at the same time. I'm always in a rush and often on the road. It doesn't leave me too much time to think about my style, so I'll often just go for something easy and comfortable..

How does the fashion and design in your city affect the style of your brand?

I'm not really following trends; I'm always focused on finding new techniques, new concepts to build up my pieces. I do often get ideas from the street but it's mainly based on technical details and finishings.

Describe the Glenn Martens woman.

The duality in my work evokes the combination of worlds I talked about earlier. A pure elegance would be too easy, there is always more to it than that. We've reinterpreted the bomber out of dusty couture material [such] as moiré. Hand-made bustier dresses are made out of a basic nylon. All dresses and skirts have pockets. Each piece has its secret: there's always a hidden slit, a transparent layer which caresses the body...you discover the piece little by little. My collections relate to all women...women with a secret, and every woman has her secret.

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 5.00.53 PM.pngWhat do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?

I was always very lucky with my past jobs. I always dealt with great responsibility in different markets of the fashion business. I do believe these experiences made me quite ready for my launch. I'm a quite rational person and therefore never have to deal with many big surprises.

What's next for you?

I'm totally happy where I'm right now. I'm designing collections, making beautiful things. I could only ask for less constraints -- being able to have full artistic freedom and not have to say no to certain wishes...that would be perfection!

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