The two-year-old Vetements is on collaboration high. For its spring/summer 2017 show—pushed ahead of Paris Fashion Week in late September as opening act of the couture season for autumn/winter 2016 (you’re not the only one confused by that), the brand of the moment is working as a twosome. No, threesome… well, foursome… er, actually, eighteensome! It’s a confusing arrangement that has delighted many fans—members of the media, no less.
In what is seen as “impressive”, the Vetements team tapped into the expertise of 18 brands (listed in the above illustration) to augment—or supplement?—its newest collection. They run the gamut from supplier to the US military to shoe maker of choice of tai tais. Of the lot, half of them are American brands, one is Canadian and one is Japanese and the rest from across the EU, pre-Brexit.
Sure, numerous collaborations on one catwalk have never been shown before. No one wishes to dilute the USP of a brand this way. But numerous collaborations in a store by a single label (or a stable of labels) are not out of the ordinary. In Japan, the Comme des Garçons flagship and satellite outlets have been stocking their multiple collaborations since the ’90s, and they draw enthusiastic shopper response.
One of the surprising collaborations: with Juicy Couture, which, until now is not considered cool
Collaborations with specialty clothiers, shoemakers and such have been very much a part of Japan’s design and retail culture. And they’re not unique to designer labels since chain stores such as Beams and Beauty and Youth are serial collaborators with mass as well as artisanal brands. For many years, these have kept the Japanese retail scene very much appealing, not only to the locals but foreigners as well.
Also in Japan, relatively obscure brands that Vehements is now pairing with, such as Alpha Industries and Schott, are not that unknown. In fact, they have their own free-standing stores in Tokyo. These brands are not necessarily part of the fashion landscape of the West, but in Japan, they satisfy the hunger for American “authentics”, which arose in the wake of the end of World War II, and Americans—the victors—were regarded as the embodiment of modern fashion.
Japan’s craze for style Americana—known (not deliberately derogatory) as yankii—and the quality of American fashion it can produce is well documented. So successful have they been at keeping quintessential American work and military wear such as denim jeans and flight jackets true to their original form and function that the Japanese have won legions of fans outside their own country for the revival of out-of-favour fashions and lost or unpractised crafts.
The androgynous ensembles of Vetements spring/summer 2017
Paris-based Vetements’s brand-America-heavy collaborations have, therefore, a precedent. It is likely that their un-French choices have to do with the Gvasalia brothers, Demna and Guram, both Georgians, running the creative and business sides of the fashion label respectively. As one-time refugees escaping civil strife, it is possible that, like the Japanese emerging from a world war, they have a passion for what style Americana is perceived to be for those seeking freedom. The widespread availability of clothes in the US, the styles that can be expressed on the streets, and the volubility of hip-hop to the Gvasalias perhaps express an alluring democracy of fashion.
This sense of liberty is rather evident in their teaming with Juicy Couture, the very un-couture of American labels, once mostly associated with LA actors and actresses going to the neighbourhood store to buy milk in ‘Juicy’ velour tracksuits, better still if the top and bottom were bedazzled. But the glory of Juicy Couture is now gone. It is not immediately obvious how Vetements will be able to resuscitate what was known as “sparkly California glam”, but, by what’s shown on the catwalk, it seems that even the trending French label may not be able to reverse Juicy Couture from being hopelessly déclassé. Juicy Couture may now bask in the firmament of cool on the shoulders of a well-hyped newbie, but would they still twinkle as soon as the latter moves to the next collaboration?
Selecting non-high-fashion brands perhaps speaks of Vetements’s claim that their choices come from the simple fact that members of the design team do not wear designer clothes. It’s perhaps “honest” to not speak of lofty personal sartorial aspirations. The collaborations could be just a practical move since this is a way to add to their collection and still retain the common-to-cult cool that they have started with those DHL-branded T-shirts of last season. Or it could be indolence: just get someone else to do your work! Still, not all collaborators are on the lower rungs of fashion credibility. Vetements still needs the perceived endorsement of brands such as Brioni (maker of the suits), Manolo Blahnik (those thigh-high boots) and Comme des Garçons (the shirts) to suggest that the Gvasalias and co are on par with the big names.
The utility styles of the apron/overalls in collaboration with Carhatt
Have the collaborations brought anything unusual to the table? Vetements fans will be thrilled to know that the brand’s off-kilter aesthetic is as pronounced as ever. The anti-sexy, big-is-better, long-is-laudable mix will prove irresistible to those completely sold on the Vetements way of wearing clothes that just has to sit askew. Even belts necessarily hang to one side, touching the floor. There seems to be excess of everything: fabrics, shoulders, sleeves: the superfluous perhaps refreshing in a world where tight and abbreviated still hold sway.
For the women’s wear, despite the seven flimsy dresses, the look is androgynous, or rather, suggesting that, since the collection features clothes for both sexes, gender-ambiguity is the way forward for Vetements. Over-sized blazers worn with roomy shirts these days can cover the masculine and the feminine. What’s interesting is that the Vetements visual strength is so strong and persistent that the typical looks of the collaborators do not come through. Not only are gender lines blurred, categories and the street-couture divide too. As the definition of modern elegance continues to be written (and re-written), for now, jumbling all up is how our mixed-up world rather likes it.
Illustration: Just So. Photos: Fashionista/Imaxtree. Editor’s note: three consecutive posts on the work of Demna Gvsalalia is reflection of the timing of shows and events unfolding in fashion presently than indication of commercial arrangement with the brand to promote their wares. All reports are independently filed