Balenciaga and Kering have confirmed that Demna Gvasalia, the founder of Paris fashion label Vêtements, will replace Alexander Wang as the new artistic director of Balenciaga’s collections, effective today. According to a statement from Kring, Demna Gvasalia will take creative responsibility for the brand’s collections and the image of the maison. He will present his first collection for the brand at the women’s ready-to-wear autumn/winter 2016-17 show in Paris.
The 34 year-old German national of Georgian origin Demna Gvasalia graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp. Earning rapid recognition and awards from the industry, he launched his first collection at Tokyo Fashion Week in 2007. In 2009, Demna Gvasalia joined Maison Martin Margiela, where he was responsible for women’s collections until 2013. He was then appointed senior designer of women’s ready-to-wear collections at Louis Vuitton, before launching the brand, VETEMENTS. Gvasalia presented his first VETEMENTS’ women’s ready-to-wear collection at Paris Fashion Week in 2014.
Before we go any further, the timing of the Balenciaga announcement is worth noting; it happened (via email and Twitter, etc.) just before the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2016 runway show. As you may know, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is Kering's biggest rival - the two luxury conglomerates own a large number of the industry's most important luxury fashion houses. Think: Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, etc. for Kering, and Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Celine, Loewe, and Kenzo, among others, for LVMH. Given the rivalry of the two companies, the timing of Kering's announcement (think: roughly an hour or so before the start of the Louis Vuitton show) is raising some eyebrows for us. I believe in co-incidence. I just don't think this is one.
As for whether Gvasalia will prove a good match for Balenciaga, Cathy Horyn - the industry's most trusted critics - does not seem convinced. Consider the following, which she wrote upon his appointment: "Balenciaga does have a history of extreme volumes and austere lines. And there's Cristóbal Balenciaga's Spanish heritage to explore, which includes the Catholic Church. Ghesquière did street-inspired clothes when he worked there, but he really got into the very structured pieces from the archive and made new interpretations." Gvasalia is known for his streetwear. As for her review of Gvasalia's own collection for Spring/Summer 2016, Horyn wrote:
As much as I loved the raw energy of the fast-paced Vetements show, held in a Chinese restaurant with a range of models — some beautiful, some sour-faced — I have to admit that, in the end, the clothes didn’t say anything to me. They were conventional shapes, like frumpy yoke dresses or a pair of blue cotton serge overalls, cunningly reconfigured.
Also worth noting, Gvasalia said something interesting to Horyn recently, which she also included in her article for The Cut. Horyn writes:
My problem with Vetements is that it basically seems a next-stage Margiela, though without Martin Margiela’s remarkable vision and ability to present clothes in a way that altered your view of fashion — much as the Japanese designers did in the 1980s. Gvasalia didn’t disagree. “We really think of ourselves as a supermarket of products,” he said, adding that it’s easy to get burned out when every six months you have to come up with a new concept. “I know commercial is a dirty word in fashion, but that’s really our base. We want to make things that will sell.”
A "supermarket of products," huh? While this is obviously a slightly problematic point when considering high fashion, it is very interesting when taken in connection with a comment from Alexander Wang's Balenciaga predecessor, Nicolas Ghesquière. Upon leaving the house, Ghesquière aired some of his grievances in an interview with System magazine (which lead to a lawsuit), saying: “I was being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity while trying to homogenize things.” He also spoke about the brand's push for rapid expansion, particularly in Asia (one of the reasons Wang was such a desirable candidate). Supermarkets of fashion and homogenized fashion seem like they'd work together pretty well, no? Maybe this will be a beautiful marriage with a heavy emphasis on selling a lot of clothes.