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And yet, it's everywhere: covered in Vogue, worn by street style stars like Chiara Ferragni and Miroslava Duma, stocked everywhere from Net-a-Porter to Nordstrom (really!), and an LVMH Prize finalist. Vetements' leader, Demna Gvasalia, was named Balenciaga's creative director after Alexander Wang stepped down; he debuts his first collection Sunday, March 6th. The fashion industry is all in — but what, exactly, is Vetements?
First things first: Vetements is pronounced vet-MAHN and it's French for "clothes." Very straightforward. A little less clear: Who is actually behind Vetements. We know its head designer and public face is the 34-year-old Gvasalia, but the rest of the collective remains totally anonymous.
Gvasalia's professional background includes senior design roles at Louis Vuitton (working under both Marc Jacobs and Nicholas Ghesquière) and Maison Martin Margiela (where, notably, the design team is also anonymous). It's believed that his Vetements cohorts are former colleagues as well as classmates from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
The school has a reputation for birthing avant-garde designers like Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, though Gvasalia didn't know that when he applied. "I went literally because it was the only school I could afford," he told Business of Fashion. "At the time it was 500 or 600 euros a year." Gvasalia grew up in the country of Georgia when it was under Soviet rule, which he says "meant that me and my friends, we all had the same clothes." After leaving Georgia and living seven years of "a gypsy lifestyle," he settled in Germany, eventually matriculating at design school in Belgium.
Fast forward to 2014, and Vetements' first collection — an evenings-and-weekends passion project of Gvasalia and his mysterious friends — has debuted in Paris. "The way we work is very intuitive," he explained to Business of Fashion. "We always work on one garment at a time. If we spend more than 20 minutes on it, we just cancel it because it doesn't feel right." Of the team's work style, Gvasalia told Julie Gilhart an interview for Neue Journal that "there are no working hours and we're just having fun all the time."
Gvasalia says it was his brother Guram's idea to "commercialize" the collection, arranging showroom representation and bringing in buyers. "He deals with everything: commercial art, sales, strategy," Gvasalia said. "Everything I can't do, he does."
Vetements' second collection commanded a full runway show with big time store buyers and fashion editors in the audience. "This collection staked a claim for the brand as one that respects the real life of clothes, the way they're tossed on, DIYed, worn out, resurrected," Maya Singer wrote for Vogue.com at the time.
I get it and and I don't get it. In this moment of Off-White (bomber jacket: $1,150) and Hood By Air (cargo shorts: $795) and Eckhaus Latta (cropped jacket: $1,059), Vetements makes sense. The fashion world seems to be craving and responding to real street style, of the non-fashion week variety. Designers keep saying they're making clothes "for our friends."
What I don't understand is who is really, truly buying this stuff. Not everything Vetements, or those other brands I named (and, for the record, have a lot of respect for), produce costs a grand or more; entry-level pieces go for around $300, which will get you a T-shirt with a graphic recognizable to a certain group of those in the know. I do understand the human desire to be part of a tribe, to be recognized by a certain group, but at the expense of a hoodie that could also pay a month's rent in New York City? I dunno, man.
"I think the hype around Vetements says more about how boring fashion is right now than it does about Vetements itself," a friend, who also works in close proximity to the fashion industry, said to me recently. I won't blow their cover, but the sentiment is an echo of what Robin Givhan wrote in the Washington Post last Paris Fashion Week:
It is a trick to create a hoodie that has a second neck opening that allows the wearer to turn the thing around and transform it into a sweatshirt. And if a garment can do all of that, isn’t it special? Rare and valuable? Even if all it is doing is transforming from one basic throwaway item into another?
But whatever side-eye I, my friend, and Robin give, Vetements is certainly not slowing down. And, as a fan of fashion, I am genuinely excited to see what the brand shows in Paris tomorrow. For one, it will be the debut of menswear for the label. It will also be Vetements' final show on the traditional fashion calendar.
"Going forward, we are showing our main collection during the pre-collection timing in June and January," Gvasalia told Business of Fashion, explaining that the move "solves a lot of issues in terms of production cycle." Vetements isn't adding pre-fall or resort collections (Gvasalia is firmly committed to just two collections per year, not four), and it isn't the only brand rethinking the show-to-sales floor timing right now.
"I always look to the example of Comme des Garçons for what we want to do," Gvasalia explained to Gilhart. "Steady but slow growth while doing things their own way."