the french revolution
Rick Owens and Vetements' Demna Gvasalia may not be French, but on the third day of shows in Paris they embodied the once-rebellious spirit of their adopted homeland, tackling in very different ways a fashion system in revolution—and evolution.
If the Balenciaga show this Sunday in Paris is the most anticipated of the season, the Vetements show on Thursday night was the most significant. The fall/winter 16 shows mark a season of change for the fashion industry. Last year was defined by a series of surprising designer exits and hires, and a debate about the speed of the fashion cycle, which is still going strong. Key players in the discussion, the Georgian brothers Demna and Guram Gvasalia of Vetements have come in like a revolutionary wrecking ball, boldly and irreverently flying the flag for positive changes in the fashion landscape. After Demna's creative directorship at Balenciaga was made public in October, just a few weeks ago Guram -- who masterminds the business side of Vetements -- announced their decision to actively take control of the fashion system and move the Vetements show to the men's fashion week this June with an in-season collection that hits shops immediately after the show. Vetements, of course, hasn't just challenged the industry in its strategy—in Milan last week in particular, its aesthetic's influence on fashion was evident (sometimes a little bit too much), and around the shows editors and buyers are flaunting their long Vetements sleeves, Titanic poster prints, and demi-couture jeans.
In accordance with its name, Vetements is based on clothes: clothes as in great individual pieces that people want to wear, which don't necessarily have to correspond to a common collection denominator. The creative collective behind it, of which Demna is the leader, uses its very different backgrounds to find universal relatability in certain inspirations or components, which will then be as relatable to a broad clientele. Its third big show at Paris Fashion Week last night embodied the only territory in which we're all fellow citizens: the internet. "All this stuff we found on Facebook and Instagram," Demna said backstage, wearing a sweater from the collection with the words "May the bridges I burn light the way." "This one in particular is something that's very close to me. I find it very positive." Other slogans drew on hashtags such as the words "Straighthate" or "Unskinny" splashed across the backs of shirts with over-dimensional shoulders, underlining their social and political point of departure of Vetements. The Gvasalias are unafraid. Their approach speaks to people because it's both profound and light-hearted. Take for instance the gothy hoodie with the cheesy hashtag "Justin4ever" on it, or the rave-y bomber jacket with the emo words "Drink from me and live forever" down the sleeve, a quote from Interview with the Vampire, one of the most important films for the generation who lived the 90s in their late teens, like the Gvasalias.
The collection played with proportion, proposing a skinnier silhouette than previous Vetements collections. Above all, there was a heightened sense of gloom to it, underscored by the frankincense-infused church on Avenue George V in which it took place, opening with Lotta Volkova -- who also styles the show -- walking in a monk's cloak turned skimpy mini-dress. "I was in such a dark place, so I felt like a church was the right place," Demna said, admitting that all the change, although positive, had had a deep impact on him and his team. "I feel like I'm afraid of having multiple personality disorder, and Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. Like, tomorrow at 9:30 AM I head to Rive Gauche," he quipped, referring to the Balenciaga ateliers on the Left Bank—a bourgeois side of Paris he didn't exactly frequent prior to his new gig. He said his Balenciaga appointment hadn't affected his approach to Vetements, only the amount of time he's able to devote to it (he does two days a week in each studio, splits one day between them, and wisely insists on weekends off to keep sane). "Do you feel a change?" Demna enquired. Interestingly perhaps to some, who thought Vetements would be all about new-new-new, the collection very much stuck to the identity of the brand, allowing its aesthetic to evolve slowly but surely instead of pleasing the newness machine. In a fashion world where people expect designers to reinvent the wheel every three months, every fashion brand should take a leaf out of the Vetements book.
Isolating himself in his studio, the changes happening in his industry had made Rick Owens do some thinking of his own. "I've been doing physical gestures in the last few shows. I've been doing exposed penises to talk about shame and masculinity and superstitions about the body, and I did women cradling women as a notion we can all identify with. And I was thinking, how can I reduce the physical gesture to me? Instead of using other people's bodies, how do I use myself?" Rick draped his entire collection himself -- quite something considering the nature of it -- in an attempt to reconnect with the fundamental values of his craft, creating a signature that could never be fully reproduced by anyone else. "It's a handwriting that nobody can really duplicate or maybe should. This is about as personal and intimate and maybe as far away from fast fashion as I can do." In that sense, it was a reaction to some of the developing changes to the fashion cycle, which some designers -- such as Vetements -- find positive while other designers work in different ways. "It's a very unique signature," Rick said. "In this day and age that's not easy, I think. It's something positive that I can offer: a positive thing." Above all, his demi-couture collection was a message to a fashion industry torn between speeding up and slowing down that perhaps it's possible to do both. Every designer doesn't have to conform.
Speaking about the softness of the garments in the collection, which were paired with beautiful, giant veil-like hairballs created by Duffy, Rick said he was trying to convey a sense of evaporation. "It's evaporating into something bigger than us that's part of our past and future. I think it's reassuring to think that the change is not a cut-off. It's part of something that will evolve forever. The mastodons are us," he mused. "Any changes can be threatening, and when I call a collection Mastodon, it's to remind ourselves that everything has a shelf life. We will someday be the mastodons and it's just a natural process. How do we face that in a graceful, positive way? I'm not New Age or Buddhist or anything, and I'm not speaking with any authority. I'm just talking about kind of emotions that we can all relate to when change threatens us." Owens might be a master of change within his own defined universe -- certainly the incredible electronic (and un-Shazam-able) soundtrack suggested the level of speed that exists in his world -- but he's a craftsman for whom time is luxury and fast fashion is an oxymoron. "That's not my industry. I'm kind of a niche, which is a good thing. All of those changes are maybe not so threatening to me, because we don't have to please everybody," he said.
The third day of shows at Paris Fashion Week signified a mood of change -- if not always for change -- around the houses. Olivier Rousteing raised his artisanal level in a Balmain collection that seemed to put more focus on cut and fit than ever before, proving that the designer speaks the virtuous fashion language of craftsmanship as well as he does the high street lingo of H&M. As a nod to those winds of change, he swapped the hair colors of his favourite girls, making Kendall Jenner blonde and Gigi Hadid brunette. With a hooded Kanye West at her side, Kris Jenner clapped wildly from the front row as her daughter opened the show, reminded us that it isn't just the cycle of the fashion system that's changing but the entire attitude of the industry where -- like it or not -- Kris Jenner now doesn't look out of place at all, and interacts casually and graciously with fellow show-goers. She would have loved the collection at Lanvin later that evening, designed by Chemena Kamali and Lucio Finale, the two designers trusted with the jobs of substitute teachers while the house looks for a new designer in the wake of Alber Elbaz's departure.
Considering the delicate nature of said job, you had to applaud them for going all out, channelling a Krystle Carrington kind of character in an 80s socialite extravaganza that certainly only lightened the mood in a strange season where Dior also finds itself without a creative director. In that transition, the Chloe show with its Prince soundtrack and similar 70s and 80s vibes seemed practically comforting. The only change here was of the usual seasonal sort, where powerhouse Clare Waight Keller turned last season's sport luxe into road trip deluxe, reassuring her trusty Chloe costumer that this brand isn't making any rash changes—at least for now.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Catwalk photography Mitchell Sams
Backstage image Jason Lloyd Evans