It seems street style stars and fashion victims are not the only ones drinking the Vetements Kool-Aid. The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the entity tasked with organizing Paris Fashion Week, is, too. On Wednesday, the group, which also oversees the selection and regulation of haute couture houses in Paris (it is a legal term of art that comes with strict requirements, you know), has named Vetements as a guest member. As a result, Vetements, the Paris-based brand known for its pricey "of the moment" t-shirts and equally trendy denim, will show a collection during Paris Couture Week in July. The brand’s designer Demna Gvasalia joins J.Mendel, Iris Van Herpen, Francesco Scognamiglio, and Yuima Nakazato, who have also been invited to join the couture calendar this year.
As for how Vetements, the brand that has likened itself to a "supermarket" of fashion, choosing to focus on what people are actually wearing in the streets right now as opposed to following in the tradition of showing innovative and technically-boundary pushing garments, will do couture, your guess is as good as mine. The closest thing we have to go on is likely Gvasalia's Fall/Winter 2016 Balenciaga collection; he did, after all, make his debut at the famed French house this past February. And considering just how much of the Vetements collection as a whole is based upon a cut-and-paste job of Margiela archival elements, chances are, its couture collection will be much the same.
More interesting that predicting the outcome, though, is what the Vetements-as-couture announcement suggests, especially since Vetements is not exactly known for earth-shattering amounts of innovation, like, say Iris Van Herpen or the technical skill of Francesco Scognamiglio. (If Gvasalia has such capabilities, which he very well may, he is not demonstrating them by way of Vetements). With this in mind, Vetements' inclusion in this season's couture shows either speaks of a wild attempt at the modernization of the practice of couture or of inevitable politics within the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (and the fashion industry at large), which very well may be seeking a press boost with this new revelation. The latter certainly would not be surprising.
There is a strong argument that couture (an intrinsically anachronistic practice that dates back to the 1700s) needs modernizing. The question is, though: Is Vetements really the one to do it?
The match seems a tad bit unrealistic. While there is a cult of couture (both in terms of the buyers and those within the ateliers) - which the practice has in common with the cult-worthy status of Vetements - that is arguably where the similarities end. At its core, Vetements is a clothes brand; it is not necessarily putting forth art. It is turning out clothes with the primary goal of selling them. Gvasalia and his team are arguably making garments in a very utilitarian - albeit expensive and trendy - sense. In fact, Vetements is likely closest thing in high fashion to fast fashion - save for maybe Jeremy Scott - if we consider its cycle of introducing trendy garments that are to be worn for a season and only a season because they are so heavily tied to seasons that wearing them anytime after that would be dated. Such a cycle, which comes thanks at least in part to the hype surrounding the standout pieces, is good for business, as it will keep Vetements fans coming back every few months (not unlike Supreme fans) to stay on top of the trend.
Fast fashion-like turnover is not necessarily a bad thing or the wrong way to go about high fashion, I suppose; that is a matter of opinion, after all. It is, however, quite a bit different from the way most houses do things. And this is very precisely why Vetements is such a smashing success, at least in theory. (Note: because Vetements is a private company, we don't have their financials. We do know, however, that overwhelming demand for the brand is built to some extent by the production of very limited quantities). All qualms aside, such discourse makes Vetements one of the most commercial brands to hit the runway in Paris in many, many years.
Yet, in stark contrast to Vetements, couture is not nearly so democratic. Couture is based on values that are almost completely at odds with what we know today. It is inherently exclusionary and does not apologize for that; it is expensive - outrageously so if we consider the prices that consumers have become accustomed to in recent years; and it is a slow process in a digital world in which consumers take in media at an increasingly rapid rate. Ultimately, even though couture is a business, it is not concerned with selling in a supermarket-like manner. It is simply too old school for that. This is haute couture, after all.
With this in mind, things are changing, and it would be utterly erroneous to say that there is not modernization at hand in considering couture. Raf Simons made Christian Dior couture particularly relevant during his tenure - raising hemlines and adding pockets. Karl Lagerfeld has similarly worked to make Chanel's codes lighter and more youthful. Do not forget about Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli's work in modernizing Valentino. And what about Hedi Slimane's recent 1980's-esque "couture" outing in Los Angeles. In short: as the couture client gets younger - and there is an increasing number of incredibly deathly young women lining up for the couture treatment - so too must the offerings, right?
We also see modernization in the form of some of today's ready-to-wear (or better yet, demi-couture) pieces (more about that here), which can be almost as time-consuming, and can be nearly as costly, as couture. This seems to be something of a marriage between couture and the modern sentiment towards fashion, which is that very little - if anything - is actually sacred anymore, especially right now when the commerciality of the fashion business seemingly outweighs the art of it. The ability to sell is valued more highly than the ability to be innovative or be conceptually boundary-pushing. The sped-up cycle of consumption has created a larger feeling that fashion is simply more superficial than usual. Fashion is not personal. It's just business. And why should couture be exempt from this growing mentality?
But then again, if we know anything about modern day fashion, it is that it has largely chosen to thrive on shock, press and superficial "disruption," as opposed to widespread innovation or deeper cultural interpretation when it comes to the garments themselves. It is easier and more engaging, at least for the moment, to rely on social media and famous figures to sell your brand (or your fashion week or your page views or your magazines) for you. Chances are, that is what is at least part of what is at play here. Vetements does not just sell $1,000 sweatshirts, it brings hype and attention and buyers/consumers, and in 2016, couture just may not be above that. Christian Dior - one of the last true couture houses - did, after all, agree to take part in a film, Dior and I, which was nothing if not a big advertisement for its couture business, just a few years ago.
So, maybe the so-called modernization of couture goes far beyond the creation of more wearable hemlines and practical considerations like pockets and zippers. Maybe it includes the superficial, attention-seeking ways of the modern day ready-to-wear brand and all of the less-than-austere elements that come right along with it.