Martens, who still designs for his own label Y/Project, is a master manipulator of denim himself, having imbued his jean styles with an experimental and subversive edge, no doubt part of the reason why he landed the creative director job at Diesel (he previously collaborated with them in 2018 for their Red Tag series).
This morning officially marked a new chapter for Diesel, with the Belgian designer finally unveiling his Spring 2022 collection for men and women (a process that took about three months) via a short film starring Ella Snyder and various talents sporting the range's deconstructed denim and upcycled looks.
"Diesel is, historically, not known to have a lot of experimental pieces," Martens told PAPER in a preview before the show. "It has the nice denim, nice jacket, nice bag, all these nice things, but it's beautiful commercial pieces. With my arrival I pushed it quite a lot. It was about finding out what Diesel stands for and connecting with its founding values and the brand identity that has been there. That's the starting point and we really worked from there. There's no point in doing a runway with just commercial pieces so you have to create a bit of creative expression."
In fact, Spring 2022 is comprised of three different collections — a heritage component called Diesel Library; the "runway" portion of experimental looks like printed and smocked organza pieces with cracked paint motifs; and then the latest drop of their global collection of more commercial pieces. Denim, of course, is the star attraction in the lineup, and Martens has had plenty of time to figure out how to approach the fabric.
"Denim is a very social material, because it talks to everybody," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are, your background, how much money you make, sexuality, religion, you wear denim. So that's of course a great responsibility because you are talking to everybody. And of course a great moment to have a message coming through. And the message first of all for me is sustainability, of course. Because denim is quite a polluting material. So within 6 months of my arrival, we managed to change the whole supply chain. That means that the treatments are certified and not polluting."
A similar approach was implemented on the cast and messaging for the accompanying film. "In the show, we mainly casted talent, not models," Martens said. "The models are talents which have engagement, they are politically battling things, or sexually. For example, the protagonist, Ella, is transgender. But we don't communicate on this, we just tag them into the pictures and people who want to discover the tag, will discover. For me it's about expressing the ideal society we should live in."