Guram Gvasalia – CEO of now-Switzerland-based "it" brand, Vetements, sat down with (or may emailed – as is customary for interviews nowadays) with the Financial Times’ Jo Ellison to discuss the brand’s recent partnership with Saks, which centers on recycling/sustainability. He also spoke to creating desirability in fashion and disrupting the industry. Here are a few of the most striking excerpts from the conversation, which can be found in its entirety on FT …
How valuable is desirability?
Luxury is like dating. If something is available and in front of you, it’s less desirable. Scarcity is what defines it. One of the ways to create scarcity is to reduce the supply curve. The more demand there is, the more desire it creates. Desire is the key value in luxury business.
Do you think of Vetements as being a disruptive brand?
The industry has fallen into a state of hibernation. The values and goals have mutated so much that things that simply make sense start to look abnormal or disruptive. Historically, brands produced clothes to sell to a final consumer. Today brands produce runway collections to sell a perfume or a wallet in a duty-free store.
They stuff stores with unwanted merchandise to report artificial growth. They keep overproducing while talking about sustainability. They claim exclusive distribution while paralleling their own merchandise. They are slowly killing their brands in the long term to have a quick profit today. When someone calls Vetements disruptive, it is actually not a comment about Vetements, it is a comment about the current state of the industry.
[Editorial note: As always with interviews when applicable, we take the opportunity to point out any potentially glaring inconsistencies and/or provide context. Here, the head-scratching element comes by way of Gvasalia's suggestion that Vetements is somehow immune to the practice of staging runway shows in order to gain the cache to sell more accessible items, such as "a perfume or a wallet."
Yes, modern day couture and ready-to-wear shows, in many cases, are more akin to large scale marketing events for brands – for the purpose of enabling and/or maintaining lucrative licensing deals and lower priced accessories that are produced in-house – than buying opportunities for clients.
Chanel, for instance, has the ability, thanks to its highly-regarded trademarks - its name and double "C" logo - (the result of years of brand building by way of ready-to-wear and couture shows and collections), to sell $80+ perfume. Prada uses its name to sell more affordable licensed eyewear. Louis Vuitton does the same with small leather goods, etc.
Sales of these more easily accessible goods help to make up for the lack of widespread sales of runway/ready-to-wear garments, which are, in fact, presented essentially a tool to market these other (often lucratively licensed) goods – i.e. sunglasses, makeup, skincare, or fragrance. (Note: Chanel's fashion division – which is largely made up of handbags – amounts to roughly 50 percent of the brand’s $2.3 billion and $3 billion annual revenues, with the remaining portion being derived from cosmetics).
Vetements is arguably not in any way divorced from this practice. Its accessible items consist of $95 socks, for instance, for which Vetements fans are willing to buy as a way to tap into the appeal of the brand without having to buy $1,150 hoodies in the same way that Chanel fans purchase $40 Chanel-branded lipsticks (as opposed to $7 Revlon lipstick from the drug store) or Louis Vuttion fans buy small toile monogram-covered pouches. It enables them to feel as though they are buying into the essence of the brand, and in this way Vetements is no different from Chanel and other brands whose business models are structured as such].
What would you say to people who think Vetements is also contributing to the problem by producing more clothes that people don’t need?
At Vetements we control how much merchandise we sell to each store to make sure they don’t overbuy. At the end of the day there are only a certain number of clients globally: if the consumer doesn’t manage to find an item in Hong Kong, he will get it in San Francisco or from a small store in New Zealand. In addition to controlling the orders placed by each store, I have created a system to put a maximum number on the pieces we are willing to put on the global market.
If the number exceeds what was planned, I reduce the orders until I get to the initially calculated goal. In some cases I have had to reduce orders by 80-90 per cent, leaving 10-20 per cent of the original order in production. Although everyone is trying to sell more, I believe that the slower you drive, the further you can get.