From The Magazine

How Glenn Martens Brought Diesel Back Into Every Party Girl's Wardrobe

And why the B-Berny miniskirt is more about fun than sex.

by steff yotka
Oliver Hadlee Pearch

In his nearly four years as the creative director of Diesel, Glenn Martens has seen Rihanna and Michelle Obama wearing his designs, but it was someone else he recently spotted in the brand who made his day: “There was a club kid that I bumped into two weekends ago at an underground rave in Paris. That kind of makes me as happy as seeing an A-list star in the clothes.” When Martens took the helm of Diesel in 2020, he had his work cut out for him. The brand had been without a visionary since Nicola Formichetti left in 2017, and though it continued as a commercial force, its days driving the cultural conversation seemed over. “Diesel had a lot of successes, but it had also had a lot of different CEOs, different directions, and some midlife crises,” says Martens. “It still sold very well. They didn’t hire me to say, ‘we’re going bankrupt.’ The idea was more, ‘we need to reconnect with what Diesel has been since the beginning.’”

Simplification has been key to those efforts. “I really didn’t do anything groundbreaking. I just put full focus back onto the founding values. It’s about going fast, going hard, and a no bullsh*t mentality.” Martens, 40, has done all this while continuing as creative director of Y/ Project, the Paris-based brand he has led since 2013. A three-season stint running his own label, plus a junior design role at Jean Paul Gaultier earlier in his career, taught him the creative resilience to get the job done quickly. “The more I work, the more inspired I am,” he says. “I’m a very restless person.”

Here’s how he made Diesel the first choice for trendsetters everywhere.

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Finding An Origin Story

“Diesel was the hype of my teenage years,” Martens says. “I remember when I was 14 or 15, I was illegally dishwashing in a bar in my hometown, Bruges, to make some cash to buy my very first pair of [Diesel] jeans. They were blue denim with a brown coating. The more you wore and washed them, the more the brown would come off. It was the first ready-to-wear brand I bought, so for me to now be at the head is a full-circle moment.”

A Hot-Ticket Item

Martens’ design principles merge grunge with ’80s glamour. Think: super-functional and sexy and clothes in denim, cotton, and leather. He’s also responsible for the B-Berny miniskirt, effectively a belt that measures just 9.25 inches long with a Velcro closure and which keeps TikTok ablaze with commentary on how to style it. “There’s often a bit of sexuality,” Martens says, laughing, “but I think it’s also about the fun factor — more fun than sex.”

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Loyal To The Lifestyle

“Even though I’m 40, I do love to go out. I love to be in raves. I have an ease connecting to my customers because I’m part of their group, part of their life, and part of what they love,” Martens says. Music also forms a key part of the Diesel in-office experience. “It’s very techno-oriented,” he says. “I don’t put anything on, but the music is always banging like crazy. It’s mostly the menswear team, but I think sometimes other ones complain so they’re allowed to put their music on too.”

A Radical Spirit

Martens was drawn to Diesel in part because of the brand’s groundbreaking ’90s advertising campaigns. In 1994, David LaChapelle photographed former real-life couple Bob Paris and Rod Jackson kissing, a groundbreaking moment for gay men starring in mainstream fashion campaigns. “I really remember it intensely because it was the first time that I saw a non-heterosexual couple in a commercial,” says Martens. “They normalized the reality of life.” Under his leadership, the brand has continued its advocacy efforts, giving away hundreds of thousands of condoms to promote safe sex and HIV awareness, even staging their fall 2023 runway show against a mountain of condom packs. “It’s about freedom of sex, the joy of sex, the joy of loving each other, the joy of loving everybody and doing whatever you want to do as long as you respect other people.”

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The Value Of Spectacle

Diesel’s design team works out of a vast industrial space in Breganze, Italy, but twice a year the brand heads to Milan for a Fashion Week display that has repositioned it as a cultural force. “We don’t do shy shows, we do big shows,” Martens says of the exhibits, which have included blow-up dolls and an eight-hour rave. “The core beating heart of Diesel lies in what we are doing in the main collection. It’s where we talk to everybody; that’s the brand we want to be. But that doesn’t mean that we sometimes can’t have a little bit of a creative explosion on the runway.”

Top image credit: Oliver Hadlee Pearch