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shop 'til you drop: vetements bring consumerism to couture

For their first collection on the haute couture schedule, Vetements collaborated with the master manufacturers of the industry, creating a show that reflected their own consumerist super power.

by Anders Christian Madsen
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04 July 2016, 10:00am

"What else do you want to know—what size is his underwear?" American Vogue's Sarah Mower cried out backstage at Vetements as editors flocked around a sleep-deprived Demna Gvasalia, quizzing him on his every motive. It's his and his CEO brother Guram's own fault, really, for being so damned irreverent and making waves in fashion to the point where, on the first evening of the haute couture shows in Paris on Sunday, their show was full of people who'd come to Paris just for them. What the Gvasalias showed wasn't haute couture (and it wasn't meant to be), but boy did they make it worth our while. This wasn't just a Vetements show, it was twenty-something master manufacturers wrapped into one big compilation album, remixed to precision by Demna and his team of young designers - Maja, Laura, Pz, Aileen, Alain, Vincent, Matt, Philip and Georg - who can now call themselves couturiers, at least if they're cheeky enough.

"For us, the couture approach is really the knowhow of these manufacturers," Demna said, referring to the collection's string of collaborators including Brioni for tailoring, Comme des Garçons Shirt for shirting, and Manolo Blahnik for heels. "We would never approach couture with the classic understanding of what couture is. We use a lot of typical Vetements design tricks, I would say, and merge it with the product of the collaborator. So working with these specialists and this knowhow is really our understanding of what couture today means. It's not about 35 hours spent on embroidery but it may be working with someone who's the best at shirts." In a world where being a creative director can mean curating the occasional mood boards, Demna is a hands-on, old-school designer, who obsesses about craft, cut and perfecting a garment. This collection, much like its predecessors, had all the grit of Vetements' sexy, seedy signature but it was threaded together by a true respect for craftsmanship.

"Every season we start with a list of garments we want to work on. So we wanted to do a leather jacket and thought, who would be the perfect manufacturer for that? Immediately it was Schott. Bombers were Alpha Industries. It's brands we can relate to, who have this knowhow of doing the products in the best way. I met with someone from Alpha Industries last season and she saw our bomber jackets and said, 'Well, you have at least 35 mistakes on that bomber'." A heightened sense of savoir-faire was evident, even in the Juicy Couture tracksuits transformed into velvet evening wear, the Vetements way—an absolutely brilliant nod to the haute fashion week they were opening, and a reminder of the traditional dress codes Demna's work is always re-appropriating. "To me, clothes are the wearability and desirability of the garment," he reiterated backstage, but while he's perpetually hung on to that point of departure over his past two years of fashion stardom, the Vetements effect encompasses way more than that.

Take this season's venue: Galeries Lafayette, the holy grail of Parisian retail havens, whose Fendi and Pucci and Victoria Beckham concessions provided the backdrop for the show that played out on its shop floor. "A shopping mall was the initial idea, but it was a bit hard to find it in central Paris, so we thought, Galeries Lafayette is like the Eiffel Tower on the tourist maps," Demna smiled. "I love shopping malls. Real shopping malls are the most inspiring places for designers, because there's no fashion. But you don't really find them in central Paris—you have to go outside. It's much easier in Dusseldorf." The provincial humdrum of his adopted hometown in Germany - where he and Guram relocated as teenagers with their family after escaping civil war in their native Georgia - is an eternal source of inspiration for Demna, whose work is often an off take on the ordinary.

And so, his maestro of choice, Clara 3000, DJ'ed a fantastically clichéd and quite 90s department store soundtrack - Like a Star by Sandy Parker feat. Lila Lulu, to be precise - as Vetements court model Maud Escudié trotted down that shop floor in a Comme des Garçons Shirt shirt and Brioni suit (for Vetements by Demna Gvasalia™), like some massive comment on consumerism. Only, what was it? Vetements is not a self-analytical brand, but you couldn't help but find a certain social statement in their collaboration extravaganza. Put through the magical Vetements machine, brands that fashion people perhaps wouldn't care that much about normally (Comme des Garçons and Manolo Blahnik very much being the exception), were suddenly elevated into super coverability by the Vetements name—and no doubt their price points, too.

It was a sly underhand to the consumer of the social media generation, who'll buy anything with a Vetements logo on it, and if Franco Moschino - fashion's late, great rebellious critic of consumerism - could have seen it, he would have loved it. "We're just trying to dress people, but if it raises discussions - if fashion can still raise discussion - I would say hallelujah!" Demna said, 500 recorders up in his face. "I think that's great, but for me it's really about what we express by putting something on." With their first show on the haute couture schedule, the charismatic Gvasalia brothers and their talented team easily accomplished that.

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Text Anders Christian Madsen