There’s a new fashion player around and his name is Demna Gvasalia. Actually, the Georgian-born and Antwerp fashion academy-trained designer hardly does the work on his own.
His name is the only one standing out from a so-called design collective, where a bunch of fashion designers work together at both the new label Vetements and at the very chic and well-established couture house Balenciaga, where Gvasalia and his friends took up the creative direction just weeks ago.
Vetements has only been around for four seasons, with fashion shows in Paris (where the brands’ HQs are) from the second season onwards.
The label and its fairly unknown No. 1 designer have been hailed as the new Messiah.
Leading fashion blog The Business of Fashion recently talked of his 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.”
During Paris Fashion Week, Vetements was featured in the store window of Colette, a concept store that people in the business consider the retail reference in Paris. Passing by, I took a picture of the window: the clothes were all pushed onto one small rack, almost falling off, and hardly styled as smart (and expensive) fashion nowadays always is.
But this is exactly what Vetements is all about. It’s just clothes, says Gvasalia in the handful of interviews he ever did, hence the French name of the brand (“vêtements” means clothes in French), yet his clothes are provocative, and hardly fit the connoisseur’s premeditated idea of elegance and class.
The label’s first fashion show was organised in a famous gay club in Paris (Le Dépot), the second show at Le Président, an ugly Chinese restaurant. The concept felt very Martin Margiela-like: casting models who hardly looked like models, and generally putting up a rather rough performance.
And then there were the clothes: 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.
How could it not be? Gvasalia studied fashion in Antwerp, around the beginning of the new Millenium, and whenever he sees a chance, he talks about this in interviews, never hiding the fact that working at Margiela was for him “exceptional.”
At that time, Martin Margiela was regarded a fashion hero in his own right. Not only had he accomplished his own maison in Paris, he worked as the creative director of womenswear at the luxury house Hermès as well.
After graduation, Gvasalia started working at the design studio of Walter Van Beirendonck, doing menswear, and later moved on to Margiela, where he learned 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.
Gvasalia stayed just over three years at Margiela and then headed over to Louis Vuitton, where he worked alongside Marc Jacobs and later on Nicolas Ghesquière.
When the time felt right, just over two years ago, Gvasalia started Vetements. I remember an early visit to his showroom in Paris, where I spoke to the designer but was not allowed to quote him or even publish his name—his contract with Vuitton would not allow that at the time.
We’re hardly two years later and even the front-row regulars in fashionland crave for a Vetements show ticket.
This led to one fashion critic (Angelo Flaccavento) to say that “Vetements has risen from underground commodity to wider notoriety could be read as yet another signal of the dangerously breakneck speed at which the system marches today with its voracious appetite for the new.”
Some critics have reported that the Vetements/Gvasalia conceptual aesthetic clearly fishes in the same pond that Margiela did (at the beginning of his career), but no one seems to find that a problem. Isn’t this strange in a fashion world where normally copycats are immediately branded and exposed?
It is fantastic that a brand like Vetements clearly fuels a new energy in fashion (these words too were often used these last few months when the brand was mentioned). But the energy, the criticism on fashion, the models, the hair and makeup… it absolutely feels like Margiela in his heyday, at the end of the Eighties and beginning of the Nineties.
Inge Grognard, who worked as the makeup artist of Margiela and now also works for Vetements, doesn’t want to use the word copycat but speaks in terms of great energy when she sees every Vetements show happening.
“I am just very happy that everyone involved in this new venture can enjoy this momentum,” she said to me a few days after the latest Vetements show, adding that “when Margiela started out, it took him years to get the attention of the big players. Now with Vetements, it’s almost overnight.”
She adds, smiling, “But there’s definitely an Eighties feel to it. I love it.”