In the approximately two years since he launched his label, Vetements, Demna Gvasalia has enchanted the fashion world with his garments. While they are, in fact, largely riffs on the work of Martin Margiela, Vetements’ offerings still feel far fresher and more youthful than the tried and true “twist on the classics” formula that nearly every menswear label, particularly those in New York, so habitually follows.
Devout Vetements followers have been, more often than not, viewed in a less favorable light, referred to as obvious (or maybe, oblivious?) “fashion victims,” a term loaded with derision and one that assumes a peculiar gap in wardrobe know-how. It is one that sees them desperately and very superficially attempting to embody the ilk of the fashion industry’s most celebrated street style stars – the Anna Dello Russos, Gilda Ambrosios, and Miroslava Dumas – and those deemed to be “in the know” by wearing what the industry considers to be the “it” brand of the moment. And they are quite obviously failing. (You can read all about that here).
In much the same way, legions of Supreme-addled youths come across as glaring fashion neophytes; their reliance on overt branding and consensus-taking on what the “in” brand of the moment is without any seemingly deeper appreciation for the brand and its wares. And it’s here, between the sturm und drang of the elite and the blind followership of the Box Logo’d hordes, that Demna and his Vetements label landed.
It was likely the streetwear-obsessed, hype-addled youth, and their relative ease with parting with their parents’ money, that pushed Vetements to the fore. Granted, it had the crucial Kanye West cosign (every tribe, even streetwear obsessed teens, need a leader, of course). Stylist-dependent celebs, the fashion victims-nonpareil, and NBA players, alike, also hopped on the bandwagon. And the prices alone (a $900 Snoop Dogg Tee!) elicited enough free press to announce Vetements as a definite “thing” of the moment.
However, in the end, Vetements is a personal ambition begat by Gvasalia. Its aim is not to create truly beautiful clothing. In fact, he’s made comments directly to the contrary (however, to be fair Gvasalia and his brother, Guram, who serves as the company’s CEO, have made many a wildly contradictory statement about the Vetements collection, which will show a pseudo couture collection this week). It’s his own personal rebellion against a stagnant luxury goods industry; an artfully constructed middle finger to behemoth fashion entities that send out sharply tailored (but, my god, boring) suits and ties, season after season. It is, unapologetically, sort of a joke. A snide, clever, knowing joke. But a joke nonetheless. One that pokes fun at fashion’s wanton consumerism and consumers’ desperate need to fit in.
Then, late last week, Gvasalia debuted his first menswear collection for Balenciaga, the Paris-based house at which he took the helm in October 2015. Here, more than ever before with Vetements, did we see what the designer can add to the menswear discussion – aside from the lucrative joke otherwise known as Vetements. His signature aesthetic pervaded still – bodily proportions were twisted, enlarged and shrink wrapped, sometimes all at once. The garments themselves, though, elicited the kind of excited, instantaneous gasps of joy, for something revolutionary, that people wanted Vetements to induce. The tailoring, as noted by critic Alexander Fury for Vogue Runway was precise and perfectly measured in its aims.
The Balenciaga sport coat as body-engulfing overcoat (replete with football pad sized shoulders, natch) was tailored perfectly to each model who exhibited it. (What critics did not note was the seeming ode to the wardrobe of David Byrnes, the lead singer and guitarist of the American new wave band Talking Heads, with the giant gray suit he wore in the concert film Stop Making Sense in 1984). And the slimmer ones that Gvasalia showed – the ones that made it seem as though each model was trapped inside some too-small experiment in fantasy suiting – never actually felt “too small,” as they hung on the body as beautifully tailored as any of the more traditional menswear brands that Gvasalia is so obviously bored of.
The most exciting part of Gvasalia’s Balenciaga menswear debut (and his Vetements collections, as well, actually)? His innate ability to convey a message directly to those that might incorporate it into their wardrobes. These are not clothes meant for dreams, but reality. After his secretive work on Yeezy Season 1, Soho was flooded with drop-shouldered crewnecks. After Vetements reached critical mass, sleeves with an extra 5 inches of fabric (a very clear ode to the work of Mr. Margiela) began to look almost appropriate, or at least not unexpected. And now, with the production capabilities and the couture history of Balenciaga behind him, we might see Gvasalia start to slowly revolutionize the way men (as distinct from Vetements-type fashion victims) dress on the street dress. We may begin to radically reconsider proportions, given how fluidly his proportion perversions lent themselves to traditional men’s tailoring in his Balenciaga show. We may finally have a reason to get excited for fashion month again.
Rarely do these sorts of design talents announce themselves so forcefully. Raf Simon’s most groundbreaking shows took place at least ten years ago. Jonathan Anderson – by way of his J.W. Anderson label – excites on this level, but is drawn so heavily to the romanticism of the avant-garde that his real world effect is largely diminished. Gvasalia, it appears, can excite the intellectualism that is inherent in high fashion, and the real life necessity of wearing the garments he designs.
Vetements may be a joke, but Demna Gvasalia most certainly is not.