text by Adam Lehrer
From the very beginning, Vetements connected with fashion lovers not because of how different it was, but because of how oddly familiar it is. Demna Gvasalia and his radical collective of European designers are primarily interested in the ways that mainstream products have been co-opted and used by various sub-cultures as signifiers, protectors, and weapons. Demna will tell any interviewer that asks that Vetements is not a “conceptual” brand; that it’s really “just about clothes,” as the brand’s name would lead you to believe. But the fact of the matter, the “just clothes” mantra is conceptual in and of itself. Demna, and stylist Lotta Volkolva, use the identities of clothes to extrapolate ideas from them: a hoodie sized to this means X and jeans with this particular cut mean Y. It’s almost like the viewer or the wearer can project his or her own ideas onto the clothes, like a blank canvas. The skinhead and his bomber jacket, the DJ and his tracksuit, the model and her stilettos: Vetements constantly finds new ways of looking at products we’ve seen, and probably worn, 1000 times.
After the last three shows, all of which were hailed as revolutionary, and not to mention Demna’s first two Balenciaga stunners, Vetements’ SS 2017 menswear and womenswear presentation at Paris Haute Couture was the glorious send off of Vetements’ first era. Because Vetements is ultimately about clothes and the wild possibilities that live within garments, Demna and crew decided to collaborate with a slew of massive brands based on various products and what brand first came to mind when that product was mentioned: a tailored jacket (Brioni), bomber (Alpha Industries), jeans (Levi’s, duh). Forget artistic genius! Though there was plenty of that in Vetements SS 2017 as well, this show was a grand feat of business savvy! Guram Gvasalia, Demna’s brother and brand CEO, finagled his way through the entire garment industry to sell the Vetements vision to 18 (!!) iconic brands. These brands would be producing Vetements designs in their factories (Gvasalia told Monolo Blahnik that he’d be slashing his shoes, and Monolo was actually excited at the prospect). That is indicative of how powerful this brand has become: EVERYONE seemingly wants to see the “Vetements version” of their products.
Some of the collaborations resulted in the exact product you would expect from a Vetements show. The Alpha Industries’ MA-1’s for instance, were oversized to the umpteenth degree, and the beautiful Mackintosh coats had the elongated sleeves and easy silhouette that, let’s face it, looks like the coolest possible way to wear a Mackintosh coat.
But there were some sumptuous surprises born of these collaborations. The Brioni jackets that opened the show were slashed at the shoulders, allowing Paul Hameline to wear the coat over his back as a cape of sorts, while the trousers were slashed at the hem. All the while, Brioni (good sports that the Italian tailoring maestros must be) agreed with the Gvasalia brothers’ idea to not iron any of the Brioni pieces (a Brioni suit is usually tailored up to 40 times before hitting retail). Blahnik thankfully didn’t have to endure the destroying of his shoes, but instead offered Vetements a waist-high version of his thigh-high satin stiletto boots. They were basically pants that acted as shoes. Or shoes that acted as pants. Either way, they fucking worked!
The Levi’s denim pieces (without Levi’s logos, score 1 point Guram) were also exciting. There was a black on black denim look oversized and draped over the wearer’s head, but there was also a corduroy Canadian tuxedo look that look cut similar to the suits in the Balenciaga menswear show. Texan cowboy boot purveyors Lucchese manufactured a sleek and glam rock version of their classic boots that looked nice with the unstructured jackets. NYC leather brand Schott, creator of the Perfecto (AKA the world’s greatest motorcycle jacket) offered some lovely oversized leather jackets, but also took Demna up on the offer to cut some leather into some little booty shorts. Why not? Carhartt workpants were turned into huge dresses (more like smock dresses). Canada Goose, creator of the world’s warmest puffer jackets, got the architectural treatment, creating jackets with all sorts of interesting details allowing the wearer to style the piece in a variety of ways. The Canada Goose puffers looked like much more technically precise versions of the Puffers in Demna’s first Balenciaga Ready-to-Wear show.
Totally out of left field was Demna identifying the “couture” within the brand DNA of one Juicy Couture. That brand, which has become as associated with Velour tracksuit-clad alcoholics sweating it out in rehab as it has been with just plain good velour, saw their signature fabric cut into a few stunning couture dresses and pantsuits.
What was most fascinating about this show is that it showed how malleable “real clothes” can be. All of these brands create products that can be worn by pretty much every type of customer. Champion sweats are at once the product choice of people recovering in hospitals, but once styled and proportioned and thrown on a cigarette smoking young thing with Sisters of Mercy on the headphones, Champion sweats become a different thing entirely. Doc Maarten’s even can be worn by a guy working construction with little or no care toward fashion and look just as good on an all black wearing Yohji Yammamoto acolyte. I love Raf Simons as much as anyone, but I’ll admit that you have to be pretty fashion forward to make Raf work for you. And fashion doesn’t work for everyone, it really doesn’t (even I usually opt for the same look of tight jeans and big safari shirts every day). Vetements is the first high fashion brand that seeks to provide a direct link between the world of wearable and lovable products and high fashion.
Vetements is absolutely disrupting the system. They are one of the first brands to offer a radically different perspective on garment construction while still achieving great success. Why is this brand showing during Couture week? Because they want to, goddamn it! Why would they show their new collection at department store Galeries Lafayette during store hours? Because they want to. Of course that isn’t only it, it’s that Demna and Guram are intimately acquainted with the benefits of an excited press. But more to the point, Vetements’ Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear show proved that Vetements is really “just about clothes,” but that there are layers of subtext to being “just about clothes.” Vetements is about the identity of clothes in relation to the identity of the person wearing those clothes. Vetements is about the myriad possibilities that live within a simple article of clothing. And Vetements is about freedom to wear your clothes the way that makes you feel like your coolest self.