During a blah couture week, Glenn Martens truly gave Jean Paul Gaultier the welcome haute so lacking elsewhere. From complex knits to swirling gowns, they’re heart-racingly rad
With couture (mostly) designed to look no different from prêt à porter these days, Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture by Glenn Martens is a master stroke of the extremes couture could afford. We’ve see the routine crowd-pleasers at Dior and Chanel (Vanessa Friedman’s shocking Tweet: “It was a very good Chanel #couture”!), and, disappointingly, even at Valentino, so Mr Martens’s high fashion debut is the proverbial breath of fresh air a sadly stodgy season needs. These are clothes that are born of an imagination in pumped-up mode. Mr Martens has a flair for the dramatic—a quality missing in couture for a while now (except, perhaps, at Viktor and Rolf)—and he expresses it in ways rather similar to Mr Gaultier. We always believe that couture should make us dream and Mr Martens has given us the tonic REM to go deep into that state.
To be sure, Mr Martens is not trying to be the enfant terrible who guided the conical-bra years of JPG in the ’80s. This isn’t “ready-to-wear on steroid”, one designer remarked to us, referring to Chitose Abe’s debut for the brand. JPG’s follow-up guest designer is more couture in his thinking, and creates shapes, other than details, that do not commensurate with the prêt. As he told the media during a preview of the show, “There’s only one time in my life when I can do a gown with a 15-meter train.” Mr Martens is clearly on a high, creating those expressive pieces in his first couture outing (although he has worked with Mr Gaultier previously and had referenced the former for his recent Y-Project collection), taking the tropes of the house and bending them to his will. Sure, there is Y-Project pinned to the pieces, but, unlike Chitose Ave, he does not let his deconstructing get too much in the way.
The Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts alum, in fact, approaches his task with a welcome classicism. Yes, there are the trains, but they are not trains that are synonymous with wedding dresses. They have more in common with court trains of the 19th century than anything you’d find in Tanjong Pagar bridal shops. Many of the costume components of French fashion that Mr Gaultier cheekily employed in the past—but sans the bra (let some other couturier pick that up!!!)—are there: corsets and stomachers, too! Sure, some of the designs border on the theatrical, but couture can afford that, and many of us, wearied by couture looking anything but, welcome the controlled exaggeration, the fantastic shapes, and sensations only couture could promise (and few houses deliver)—Mr Martens offered them, with emotional pull.
We like that he did not impose his own vision to totally obscure the JPG tropes (“Gaultierism”, some call it) we know so well. There are the ‘tattoo’ prints, now layered (but still body-hugging) to look indistinct, almost NFT-ed; 3-D metallic flowers that float over the body (metal is ethereal!); the suit with cut-outs, but not quite cold-anything; the tattered surface treatment of the more glamourous Gaultier textures (mummy strips!), and the lacing taken out of corsets to crisscross hips and trains. But the collection also targeted Gaultier diehards for whom the marinière (long-sleeved tee with horizontal blue and white stripes, typically worn by seamen or personnel of the French Navy) is emblematic of the house. But a T-shirt in a couture collection won’t hold up to scrutiny, so Glenn Martens made it into a suit-dress and embellished it with bits of cords that look like frayed raffia. Subversive may not quite be on his mind, and subversive is hardly an attention-grabber these days. But sensational, that modern rarity, is surely—and firmly—there.
Screen grab and photos: Jean Paul Gaultier