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Courtesy of Diesel

Glenn Martens gives the inside scoop on his first ever fragrance for Diesel

From the Gen Z testing process to creating a perfume that smells like a comfortable pair of jeans, the designer talks us through D by Diesel

Glenn Martens is a fashion lover’s fashion designer. For those in the know, the name elicits an avid excitement not felt since Demna appeared on the scene, and the Belgian designer has cultivated a feverish fanbase over the last few years.

With a trademark mixture of irreverence, gratuitous weirdness, humour and sexiness, Martens disregards tradition and subverts norms at every turn. It has paid off. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold, from his widely lauded revitalisation of Diesel, where he is creative director, to knock-out collections for Y/Project. The brand’s AW22 collection, Dazed wrote at the time, “will surely go down in fashion lore.” Speaking about an exceptional couture presentation for Jean Paul Gaultier which Martens guest designed, Dazed wrote: “A collective silence fell over the fashion world. And that’s not to be sycophantic, it was really, really good.” It’s no wonder Chloe Sevigny turned to the collection’s final piece when it came to choosing a wedding dress

These days, however, a successful fashion brand has to encompass more than just clothing. It’s about lifestyle, with make-up lines, fragrances and skincare, alongside various other accoutrements, becoming increasingly the norm. So, following on from some co-branded Lelo x Diesel sex toys earlier this year, Martens has now turned his attention to fragrance, overseeing his first perfume for the brand since becoming creative director.

D by Diesel is a gender-fluid fragrance created in collaboration with L’Oreal and perfumers Nisrine Grillié, Shyamala Maisondieu and Louise Turner. A warm, joyful scent, Martens says the perfume is a continuation of Diesel’s identity and ethos. Describing the values of the brand as active, positive and sexy, with a “no bullshit mentality”, he says these drive everything they do, including the collections and now the fragrance. “The thing with fragrance that is really amazing is that you can – in one product – sum up the whole brand,” he says over a Zoom call from Paris. “The perfume reconfirms all of what we’ve been doing in one little bottle – it’s very fun, there’s a bit of irreverence in there. It’s really about a spirit and a way of living.”

Given how closely tied the fragrance is to the brand’s identity, and Martens’s undeniable penchant for the material, it will come as no surprise that denim was a key inspiration, with the scent drawing on both the spirit and smell of a comfortable pair of jeans. “A good pair of denim, well cut, good quality, will be there every single moment of your life,” says Martens. “You wear it with your high heels and you can go to cocktails, you wear it with sneakers, you can go raving, you wear it with hiking boots, you are going to the mountains – it really becomes a part of you.” 

With the fragrance, he says, the brand had the same approach – their aim was for the scent to be there to assist us in every moment of our lives, through all experiences we have, to make sure we nail them and be successful. “I hope that this perfume can do that as denim does,” Martens says. As well as a metaphorical inspiration, a comfortable pair of jeans was an olfactory and visual one as well. Housed in a recyclable, refillable bottle, with a cap styled to resemble the rivets on a pair of Diesel jeans, the vegan fragrance contains notes of cotton, alongside sustainably-sourced bourbon vanilla from Madagascar, lavender from Provence and notes of ginger.  

But for Martens, the ingredients were almost beside the point. Remarking throughout our interview that he’s not a professional perfumer – “I’m not a nose, I just can say it smells really nice!” he says jokingly at one point – what the designer was really interested in achieving with the perfume was a universality and conveying a message of inclusivity and democracy. The fragrance was developed with the people in mind, listening to what they like and creating an emotional connection. 

“We’re not talking about a niche perfume, we’re talking about a very global perfume talking to a lot of different people,” he says. Had the fragrance been for a “Glenn Martens” brand, he says, he probably would have taken a different approach. “It would really need to be what I personally, as an egocentric person, like. But this is not about being an egocentric person, this is about people.”

With his own preferences for fragrance, Martens has been on a journey. Describing himself as a very consistent person when it comes to his personal aesthetic and routine, the designer says he discovered his scent 15 years ago and hasn’t strayed from it since. “When I find something [I like], I will wear it forever and I will buy everything in multiple sets.” As a teen, however, he was more guided by the popular trends of the day and high school peer pressure, when the only accepted options for a teenage boy in Belgium were CK One, Hugo Boss and Jean Paul Gaultier.  

“I was a follower,” he says. “When you grow up in a provincial town, like I did in Bruges, you have to fit in, so those perfumes were kind of an obligation.” It’s because of these experiences growing up that he so admires the younger generations today, in whom he sees much more individuality and a celebration of personhood. It was Gen Z that he turned to when it came to formulating the scent. These “people who are shaping the future,” as Martens refers to them, from France, the UK and Germany were called upon to give feedback on various formulations of the fragrance throughout the testing period. It was a democratic approach that aimed to land on a scent that connected and engaged with the largest number of people. 

“We really made sure that the testing process was done regardless of gender or sexuality, religion, background,” Martens says. “I think it’s very important that a perfume, a global brand, talks about the society that they believe in and that they would like to see in the future. All-inclusiveness is core to everything we do.” This ethos is something that is clearly very important to Martens, a topic that comes up throughout the interview. When discussing Ella Synder, who has acted as the face for the brand since Martens joined, he talks about how important it is that she is an activist. 

“When you’re in a global brand like Diesel, it comes with a responsibility because you have so much power to talk to so many people from so many different parts of the world,” he says. “So you need to show love and acceptance.” It’s an impetus that also drove the casting for the campaign, which rather than starring just one single celebrity face, features 35 different models from around the world, including Snyder as well as Deaken Bluman, Nathan Hopkinson (aka Curlyfrysfeed) and Omizs.

“I didn’t feel that was a good process for Diesel,” Martens says of the more old-school tradition of having a single celebrity who embodies the scent. “We really wanted to be more global, so it’s more the smell of a generation – that’s where we want to go with Diesel.” Working with such diverse casting, and prioritising real people and talent over models in campaigns, has taught Martens a lot, he says, particularly about the principles of young people these days and the direction he wants to take the brand ultimately. “When I was their age, 20, I think I was way more narrow-minded,” he says. “I think it's very important that we reflect their tone of voice and what they believe in.” 

Looking forward to future Diesel fragrances, Martens says that while perfumes are something they love doing, a nice way of talking about the brand, for the moment they are just focusing on D for Diesel and giving “the baby a little bit of time to grow up.” He has enjoyed the process though and values the different opportunities it has provided him with. “I do think experiencing as much as possible, different situations in life, keeps you curious and open-minded,” he says. “It’s very important to always see that there’s something else happening outside of your comfort zone and bubble. All these projects I work on help me stay aware and keep my brain alive.” 

D by Diesel is now available in Europe. It will launch in the US and Japan in September, and the rest of Asia in 2023.