Fashion needs new. In it’s search for whatever is next, the fashion industry is often voracious. Yet every now and then ‘next’ gets served up in a shiny complete package that just makes sense.
Enter Vetements, and Vetements’ designer Demna Gvasalia’s initiation into the house of Balenciaga. Balenciaga, the brand, has maintained a bold, graphic stance since it’s inception at the hands of Cristóbal Balenciaga back in 1919. Gvasalia enters the ranks of radical designers who have worked under the Balenciaga banner such as Hubert de Givenchy and, of course, Nicolas Ghesquière—who made his name at the label before famously coming to blows about the owners expectations, resulting in a lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court—at the same time saving Balenciaga from the misdirection of Alexander Wang who seemed lost at the brand, having ignored the bold instincts he employs under his own name label in favour of something oddly romantic and out of place for Balenciaga.
The Vetements connection is the key to this story. Fashion insiders had already clocked the first collections by the fledgling label but it wasn’t until their hyper-conceptual Spring/Summer 2017 collection, held inside Paris’ Galeries Lafayette department store, that people really started to take notice. Vetements (French for ‘clothes’) was born out of a collaboration between a group of designers in current employ by a number of Paris-based big name fashion labels. Some of the designers behind Vetements remain incognito because of this. Demna Gvasalia broke cover once his Balenciaga appointment was announced and became unofficial spokesperson for the brand. The main take away for many fashion editors was a return to streetwear. A large chunk of Vetements collections have included active wear (i.e. tracksuit style garments), modified to create subtly elaborate new forms often with voluminous proportions. When it came to designing for Balenciaga Gvasalia played with form and proportion again, creating silhouettes never seen before (especially the Men’s lines…) but his approach came from a different angle… “At Vetements it’s like … It’s ugly, that’s why we like it. At Balenciaga ugliness doesn’t exist.” [Source: Demna Gvasalia interview by Alexander Fury in Fantastic Man, issue 24, Autumn Winter 2016]
This renewed interest in streetwear was peaked this year by Vetements but had been bubbling under high fashion for a while now via Normcore and to varying degrees of, well, not quite success—cue high profile ‘brand colabs’ such as Kanye West’s ‘Yeezy’ collection for adidas and Rhianna’s highly dubious Fenty collection for Puma. Both these collections were covered in high fashion press, more because of some unwritten rule that any celebrity showing an interest in ‘designing’ formal collections should be covered, especially if they’ve appeared on a few magazine covers. Needless to say criticism (apart from the fainting models at the Spring 2017 Yeezy show) was pretty thin on the ground, even through Rhianna’s mixing of Marie Antoinette with a sort of trashy Juicy Couture ‘mall chic’ (a label Vetements sought out for their break-through SS17 show as previously mentioned) mostly just created a visual eyesores.
Elsewhere the move away from the nouveau riche, luxury look that held sway ever since Tom Ford’s revival of Gucci & YSL, continued as large fashion brands juggled the need to have a lead designer who could handle the pressure of being a figurehead as well as being able to do all the things a creative director needs to do, and brilliantly. On top of this these super-lead designers were also expected to address new audiences that wanted more unique, quirky and often eccentric approaches to fashion.
Gucci has managed this by creating campaigns that transform models into nuanced characters imbued with intrigue. Kenzo, meanwhile, further extended it’s brand into film with Carrie Brownstein writing and directing a short for them starring Natasha Lyonne. Again, eccentric choices that add depth to their brand rather than just a glossy sheen. A collaboration with H&M further bolstered Carol Lim and Humberto Leon’s—Kenzo designers on loan from their own home grown band, Opening Ceremony—mission to reinvigorate the Kenzo brand with a daringly eccentric world view—finding a place outside of any discernible trends but in a rich, inclusive world of its own making.
As much as fashion pundits wanted to talk about ‘the street’, Normcore and casual wear as a way of pausing and refreshing (due to the likes of Vetements and Yeezy) and the ‘normalising’ of high fashion, the real story was an underlying shift into eccentric and hyper-individualistic realms that should prove fertile ground for many years to come. It’s the kick-up-the-butt the fashion industry has needed for a while now and the fact that it’s snuck in covertly makes it even more exciting.
Links & Resources
Vetements Spring Summer 2017 Show
Balenciaga Spring Summer 2017 Mens Show
Kenzo, ‘The Realest Real’, Promo directed by Carrie Brownstein
Yeezy, Season 4 show report via ‘The Cut’
Report by Stella Bugbee.
Fenty x Puma, Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear collection