On Monday morning, an hour outside of Seoul in the luxuriant hills of a remote location that even confused the Korean cab driver, some one hundred hoodie-clad Vetements fans were camping out in front of a rural property. They'd been there overnight, queuing up for an event they weren't totally sure what was. All they knew was that it carried the name of their fashion obsession (Vetements), the online destination they get it from (Matchesfashion), and the mystifying tag line 'Official Fake'. Now fellow fans were arriving by the bus load - hundreds of them - and tension was rising. "Country side," the Korean cab driver concluded as he parked the car. Past the mile-long queue, down a driveway, they were yet to see the hillside warehouse fronted by a massive black Vetements banner. Inside, rows and rows of garments, shoes and caps neatly lined the vast aisles illuminated by the natural light coming through the roof's green-tinted windows and contrasted by the unnerving beat of a brutal electronic soundtrack.
"It's a great spot," Matchesfashion's Buying Director Natalie Kingham reflected, sitting on a dusty curb in an oversized Vetements suit. "Where are we?" she laughed. Before anyone knew what Vetements was, in 2014 Kingham placed an order for eighty of the hoodies, which have now become the prized possession of any self-respecting fashion cult member. Two years on--Vetements now a household name in the industry--she's taken it to Korea, one of Matchesfashion's biggest markets. "Korea is amazing. It's a great market for us. I love it here, and it was a perfect collaboration to do here. I love Vetements. I love Guram and Demna." She was talking about the Gvasalia brothers, founders of the label for which Demna is the designer and Guram the CEO. When the latter arrived at the warehouse on Monday morning (Demna was on Balenciaga duties in Paris, his gig on the side) in black sunglasses, head-to-toe skinny, black sweats, the brand's new collaboration trainers with Reebok and white socks with the heavy metal Vetements logo on the elastic band, it was like a rock star had entered the building.
"When I arrived yesterday they were doing show light installations and I asked them to remove it completely and just keep the natural light that the space has," he said, ever the flair for finesse. "The only thing is that the music needs to be a little louder. This is not our music, is it? Put something else on but a bit louder," Gvasalia asked a tribe member. She brought him a Red Bull. It's all he drinks. "If you want to create something today you go online, you go to Matchesfashion.com and buy it online and order it. But if you want to go to a physical location, it's very important it's an experience, and it's not just about the merchandise that you're selling, it's about the space. The space is actually the future. The space is very real. We have doors and windows missing, and people had to stay here overnight to make sure that everything was taken care of," he explained.
Six months ago, on a trip to Seoul, yours truly texted Gvasalia a string of snapshots from Doota, a Korean mall where fake, redesigned Vetements pieces are sold like hot cakes. Matchesfashion had been wanting to collaborate on an event with Vetements in Korea for some time, and Gvasalia had an idea. "It's becoming one of the most important markets, not just in Asia but in the whole world. It was interesting to do something here but maybe to do something disconnected from what's going on here. In addition we have great partners in this country, but it all felt unfair to work with any of them, you know, because it would create internal competition, so when Matchesfashion wanted to do something in Korea it felt very natural," he said. "We thought, what can we do here? There are so many fakes here, and some of the fakes are actually nice because they're very interesting reinterpretations of what we do. So we thought, okay, let's take our best-sellers and see how we can fake them."
They became the capsule collection he would take to that warehouse outside of Seoul. "We had this dress with multiple layers that had an amazing print on it. And it seems like a logical decision that someone, if they were to recreate it, they would probably go and make a t-shirt with the same print. We had a hoodie and a t-shirt that had a definition of the product on it, so that's what happened to the famous raincoat. It got a print of a definition of a raincoat. The caps have 'cap' written on them," he explained, walking through the warehouse where an inverted take on Vetements' signature reconstructed jeans were hanging on a terrace overlooking a green valley, a 1,365,000-won price tag hovering over the rails. "Then, in addition to that, we're launching these sneakers with Reebok, which are coming out next year and we're the first ones, who were allowed to do something with it, and it felt like a nice thing to bring to the Korean market as the first sneaker we ever produced."
It was a stroke of the kind of contrary genius that's become a Vetements trademark: fashion's enemy of the state, the fake reproduction market, embraced and one-upped by the brand itself--albeit with £600 price tags rather than the £60 ones you get at the Doota. But as Gvasalia said, the best things in life aren't free. "People say our pieces are expensive, but they're expensive because of the quality. This quality ensures you have this hoodie for more than a day. I hate when you buy something and next month you have to buy something new. I'm already thinking about 10-20 years from now when people will say, 'This is my archive Vetements hoodie'." But his Korean capsule collection was also about highlighting the global issues of the fake market. "They didn't know yesterday where to put all the garbage so we dropped it on side of the room so when you come in, you see all the garbage from the production, for people to realise how much garbage there is in the world, and to make something like this happen how much pollution you bring into the world," he explained, pointing to the towers of cardboard boxes scattered at the side of the warehouse. Vetements, saving the world, "One hoodie at the time," Gvasalia said, finishing the writer's sentence.
Before his hordes of Korean fans were let in and hundred of hoodies and raincoats were sold out in a matter of minutes, he made a brief appearance outside, cameras flashing and hands reaching out at him like he was a pop idol in the 90s. Gvasalia didn't notice any of it, but when someone told him fans had actually camped out to be first in line, he uttered a quiet, "That's big," visibly moved. "The Korean customer is quick, really fashion-forward, wants something new and exciting all the time, and they're not afraid of that," Kingham explained. "They're really good, savvy shoppers. Super fashionable."
Image via Instagram
Text Anders Christian Madsen