As the year comes to a close, and an increasing amount of fashion websites are bestowing honors on the industry’s most favored designers and creative directors, it seems an apt time to look back at some of the attention that has been paid to Paris-based label, Vetements (the label that has largely been deemed 'most relevant') and its director, Demna Gvasalia, who also – as many already know – serves as the creative director of Balenciaga.
As Veerle Windels noted in an article for the Daily Beast this past April, entitled "The Coolest Copycat Around," Vetements and its "fairly unknown No. 1 designer have been hailed as the new Messiah.” Windels' article shed light on the fashion industry's fierce favoriting of Vetements.
The label garnered enthusiastic reviews from the get-go; it has been the recipient of design awards (most recently, Vetements took home the British Fashion Council Award for the International Urban Luxury Brand); and has found fans among some the world's biggest names in music. Vetements has also been the subject to a huge array of glowingly articles. Windels notes, for instance, that Business of Fashion recently categorized Gvasalia's work as a “creative earthquake,” stating that “Gvasalia grasps the moment. He is connected to what is happening in the streets and what is boiling in the clubs, and is able to morph all of this into desirable yet attainable clothing with a singular focus.”
But how creative is Vetements and Gvasalia, really?
Windels, for one, seems skeptical, particularly as she calls attention to the similarities between Gvasalia's work for Vetements and that of undeniable fashion legend, Martin Margiela. Gvasalia did, after all, spend time - 3 years to be exact - working for Margiela and as Windels put it, "learning the tricks of the trade the Margiela-way. This means: deconstructing existing garments and making new ones with the material of the former ones; and making garments that are far too big for the body, but that can be adjusted, thus bringing about completely new forms."
For her, this is clearly very clearly depicted in Gvasalia's work at his own label, which he launched in 2014 based on the idea of urban cultures, the internet, everyday life on the streets and a modern wardrobe without seasonal themes. Of Vetements' debut show, Windels wrote: "It felt very Martin Margiela-like: Deconstructed jeans, far too large trousers and tops, reworked trench coats, large flower dresses and T-shirts or hoodies with slogans reading ‘DHL’ (aka the courier service). I couldn’t help but think: this is SO Margiela." Even the models, "who hardly looked like models," gave a nod to the ways of Margiela, who notoriously favored slightly off-kilter casting.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. This is not the first time a label has been influenced by pre-existing designs; fashion is largely cyclical and dependent on the re-introduction of trends, after all. And, to be precise, it is hardly the first time a designer has looked to Mr. Margiela for inspiration. As Sarah Mower wrote for Vogue last year, "Phoebe Philo’s first collection, with its beige bodies and black leather shoulder patches, blew a faint MMM dog whistle for all the despairing."
Mower similarly noted other labels, as well: "It’s not just Vetements I see channeling the spirit of Margiela, either. Whether consciously or not, it’s there in the ripped and shredded denims and general elegant decay of Marques ‘ Almeida’s collections—a line that is also a commercial hit because of its essentially no-nonsense sensibility." Still yet, there are frequently hints of Margiela in Raf Simons's collections; Simons has been quite open about his admiration for his fellow Belgian designer and his work. And Kanye West's creations are often dead-ringers for Martin-era Margiela.
Yet, the odes to Margiela that are present in Vetements wares are arguably much stronger than those in the aforementioned examples, and it has not gone unnoticed. Countless articles exist that bear titles to the tune of "5 Ways Maison Margiela Influenced Vetements." That exact one was published by High Snobiety in March 2016.
In another article, one titled, "Margiela Mania Explodes at the Fall Shows," Vogue's Laird Borelli-Perrson stated: "While it’s not surprising to see some homages to Margiela’s oeuvre in Gvasalia’s work—he did time at the house—the pervasiveness of Margiela’s influence on other runways this season, be it conscious or otherwise, was impossible to miss."
With the obvious similarities at hand and the seemingly massive success story known as Vetements in mind (I say "seemingly" because we really have no idea how well Vetements is actually doing; it is a privately held company, after all), one of the most interesting excerpts from Windels' article questions why. Why does no one seem to mind that Vetements is inextricably tied to something that has clearly already been done ... by someone else?
Some critics have reported that the Vetements/Gvasalia conceptual aesthetic clearly fishes in the same pond that Margiela did (at the early parts of his career, at least), but no one seems to find that problematic. Isn’t this strange in a fashion world where normally copycats are immediately branded and exposed?
Mower gives some perspective: "Some people have carped that Vetements is a 'copy'—but I would judge it on a different scale: its relevance to what people really want. Timing in fashion is all—and you have to be able to feel when it’s right." It seems that it is here that Vetements thrives.
As we noted earlier this year in the heavily trafficked article, "Vetements and the Cult of the Fashion Victim," Vetements is not revolutionizing in terms of original design. Gvasalia has said that, himself. He is not particularly interested in creating earth-shatteringly novel garments and to be frank, neither are most consumers. So, originality is not at the core of this brand's success.
Instead of charting a design-focused course, Vetements is finding success another way - by tapping into fashion fans’ tried-and-true desire to show that they are worthy, that they are in the know, that they have something exclusive, that they are cool. These individuals - many of which are either fashion industry ones (hence, all of the Vetements-centric street style photos) or well-off young adults that probably also wear Off-White - are essentially taking the coveted “it” bag of the season and wearing it as a sweatshirt or jeans.
Buying – regardless of a garment’s price point – is one of the easiest ways to gain status. It does not require learning or accomplishing anything. It allows the buyer to be part of something cool without expending anything more than money. And that is convenient because in the current landscape of things, which can be probably be aptly categorized by the fact that most people don’t want to read anything longer than a text, ease reigns supreme.
So, why wouldn’t that tide over into the fashion industry? It is, after all, one of the most immediate reflections of the time in which we are living. In short: Shoppers now – just like shoppers in the past – aim to maintain the appearance of status, and a Vetements sweatshirt will give them that for a few seasons. In this way, the Vetements’ method (at least when it comes to the brand’s most coveted items) and the resulting fan fury over those garments is not anything new. But that does not seem to matter, because guess what? It works.
Despite the seemingly widespread copying and the season-specific garments, which are likely little more than strategically manufactured items aimed at appeasing the status quo (precisely where the money is), the vast majority of the fashion industry has bought it, hook line and sinker, as indicated by the countless glowing articles, the editorials, the endless street style shots, and the brand's many stockists.
Mower echoed this notion, stating, "For a small independent company, demand for Vetements’s oversize jackets (yes, Margiela did this in 2000) went off the scale, snagging the brand 44 stockists and a super-quick sell-through. The chopped-up flower-printed tea dresses with sweatshirting inserts are already down in fashion’s street style annals as a phenomenon of the year."
As for whether that makes Gvaslia and Vetements "creative," I, for one, am not so sure.