Vetements Well Ahead

For spring/summer 2022, Vetements is way earlier than the rest. Does it matter?

Fashion seasons are really quite screwed up. Sacai just showed their autumn/winter 2021 collection, and so close to the season’s retail drop, and in the middle of what, for some others, is resort 2022. Vetements, conversely, presented their spring/summer 2022 so many months away from when stores might stock them. What is going on? Is anyone keeping up? Is anyone keeping track? We are not quite at the end of the present spring/summer season yet. Are we, therefore, poised to look at the next? Would we, by the time it is to buy them, remember what was shown nearly six months earlier (assuming that spring/summer now retails as early as late November)? Wouldn’t we, by then, be confused by another ultra-early who-knows-what-season? In a disregard-the-fashion-weeks world, those questions probably do not matter. And Vetements probably don’t give a damn.

Their proposals for next spring/summer were made available to the media through photographs that appeared to be Photoshop (PSD) files with the background removed (which would normally be viewable as a PNG or GIF file to the non-Photoshop user), but the model and clothes in full 2-D glory. The collection purportedly questions the relationship between man and machine, and some how the 1999 film The Matrix was thrown by the brand and its commentators into the mix. The tech talk and how “wires have become the only way for us to stay connected to the outside world and the reality we live in”, as posited in the PR notes, all seem to play up what would otherwise be the usual Vetements design tropes. A Vetements fan wouldn’t care to ask, as Guram Gvasalia did: “Are we becoming wires ourselves?” As long as there are those exaggerated shoulders and, for some, the body-obscurity shapes, the brand can do no wrong. Or, alienate fans.

Vetements has become so good at pushing their unmistakable look that sometimes it seems that they are parodying themselves or—oddly—staying a step behind Balenciaga. Perhaps that should be ahead? It is easy to pin it to the Gvasalia brothers thinking alike, even when they are working separately and independently. But since the strange call-out last September by Vetements that hinted at Balenciaga copying the former (followed by the unambiguous message, “WTF”), we can’t be sure if the aesthetical parallel is coincidental or the leftover from sibling collaboration that was once deep and seriously trend-setting. Even in pandemic-defining times, there is no stepping away from the goofy, the geeky, and grandma goon. Vetements continues to draw out the odd-balls among their adopters, who all seem to prefer the fringes of what is already on the periphery of fashion. Ugly, once associated with the brand, now does not matter, or is seen as such. Take the cheesy and the beat-up and throw in a dash of the sheen of luxury and you can make the unseemly in appearance the LV for the flashy.

These season, there are references to the big screen. And definitely technology-can-screw-us thrillers such as The Matrix, as seen in the fabric with the green alphabets and numerals that mirror the film’s title sequence. And it doesn’t end there. The homage-to-Vogue film of 2006, The Devil Wears Prada is also in the line-up (as in ‘The Devil Doesn’t Wear Prada’ T-shirts), but how that fits the whole us becoming wires spiel isn’t clear. At some point, we thought we saw something akin to what Tilda Swinton wore as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. All the referring to films also points to other brands. If the devil doesn’t wear Prada, perhaps they wears Versace? Or, gold curlicues that would make Donatella Versace beam with pride? Does the devil wear gender-neutral clothes too? Slip tops, for example, are for both women and men. Or, is the devil just the middle-aged uncle who prefers baggy avuncular suits over a cropped top that shows off a middle-aged paunch? Whatever the devil wears, the devil’s ally Vetements is still fashion’s diabolical adversary.

Photos: Vetements

Vetements Without Demna Gvasalia

You’ll hardly notice

 

Vetements AW 2020 P1

In earlier times—now forgotten, what Vetements proposes would be considered insufferably unattractive. But it’s 2020, and the ‘ugly’ trend is moving inexorably towards the end of its life (probably faster than streetwear). Yet, the Paris-based collective, now leader-less, isn’t changing gears. It’s driving steadily on a track it has laid: one that mall rats and those who live on a staple of vintage garb had previously laid out. It offers clothes people “want to wear” (already wearing?), just a little twisted and massively priced to be similar to, say, Balenciaga (which for a while seemed linked, at least aesthetically)—serious fashion pricing for mere vetements (clothing in French).

Some people think Vetements is admirable because it has not embraced “high fashion’s weighty concepts” but Demna Gvasalia’s former brand is based on the conceptual heft of the purposely low-brow, and rides on the very Noughties belief that ugly is nice, the hideous too. Even the uniform of your courier guy, offered with minimum design input from the manufacturer, can be fetching enough to adapt as the most haute article of clothing you could wear. Funnily, no one thought they were duped. Rather, they saw in the garments not parody, but irony, which, by 2016, was extremely marketable. Subsequently, no one could even tell subversion from scam.

Vetements AW 2020 G1Vetements AW 2020 G2

In 2018, Highsnobiety declared Vetements “dead”. This was a disturbing/divisive report, considering that, at that time, Vetements was just 4 years old (its debut in the a/w season of 2014 was presented as a look book shot in the apartment of Mr Gvasalia). Despite its anti-fashion (or anti-Parisian elegance/posturing) stance, Vetements was different enough yet oddly familiar since those awkward clothes looked like what you’ve seen in some neighborhoods or industrial parks that captured the imagination of a (mostly) young bunch of editors and influencers who had not, for a moment in their coddled lives, needed to look this alt, this oddly-fitted, this unappealingly appealing. They have never seen or been to those neighbourhoods and industrial parks. There was this chance to play the renegade without having to adopt what the punks did: tore up clothes and fasten them with safety pins. Vetements showed that fashion this anti could be well-made, well-distressed, so over-sized, and luxurious. Then Highsnobiety struck.

We can’t say for certain that Vetements is no longer saveur du jour. But we have heard, on the selling floor, that “nobody wants Vetements now.” Even less so without Demna Gvasalia? In the past, Mr Gvasalia had often stressed that Vetements is a “collective of designers”, which could mean that even without him, the label can soldier on. And what does a Vetements without the main man look like? Just as defiant, but tired. Six years after that apartment shoot, Vetements has not tossed out the want-to-make-every-day-bloke-cool vibe. Or, for the women, the same grit+glamour schtick. They continue to stab at fashion snobbery with blunt scissors.

Vetements AW 2020 G3Vetements AW 2020 G4

We weren’t at the show, so can’t say this for sure. but we imagine that, since attendees had to help light the runway with the flashlights on their smartphones, maybe they didn’t have time to busy themselves with social media? No show-to-IG immediacy. Could this slightly deferred transmission somehow minimise the still-banausic approach that is synonymous to both Vetements’s design and presentation? The styling for Vetements shows have mostly looked like costumes for a film about gritty, inner-city life, affording only occasional fashion quirks by those who are anti by circumstance. Even without its founding designer Demna Gvasalia, the brand still appears to straddle its suburban Georgian roots and inspiration and the collective’s separate starts at various luxury houses. Does anti still charm?

Till now, Vetements is considered to be “reworkings of wardrobe staples”, but whose staples? The present collection suggests those of security guards, pimps, and pai kias who share the same sartorial train home after the graveyard shift; the kids with their compulsory hoodies, who hog tables at Starbucks to study; the fashion students who think graduation can come when spending more on what they wear to class than on the materials needed to pass the class; the bengs and lians you meet every day, on the way to work. These are not clothes that will get people a job. Sure, some pieces are stylish, such as the ‘flat’ skirts, essentially two rectangles coming together, but if the wearers weren’t models and they came towards you in a group, walking as aggressively as they do in the show, you’d be afraid. Possibly, very afraid. Demna Gvasalia did leave his mark.

Photos: Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Close Look: Vetements

Vetements @ Club 21

By Raiment Young

The only way to see if the unceasing rave for Vetements makes any sense is to have an actual look at the clothes. Last week, as part of Club 21’s introduction to the store’s autumn/winter 2016 collections, a little sake bash was held at its Four Seasons location. Two tweeny models were doing their rounds, wrapped in Craig Green, but the guests were not seduced. Instead, quite a few were entranced by a section at the women’s wear side of the 2-wing store, now dedicated to Vetements.

Coming from the Hilton Shopping Gallery side, I, too, was intrigued the moment I passed the right end of the store. It did not look like its usual set-up; it was not soinee enough. It won’t take more than a second to register the street vibes of the clothes. You would have thought it was Stussy gone bezerk until the eyes spotted some pieces that were without doubt from Vetements’s fall collection. My excitement was, however, mixed with dread—the dread of being let down by designs that won’t live up to the outburst of hype.

Inside, the potential visual effects of these clothes for both sexes made me think of my own insecurity towards anything extreme and illogical. Could these garments, huge and, at first sight, size-indeterminate, underscore aging rather than defy it? Nary a wisp that suggested the body-flattering tailoring that can be deemed sharp and elegant, these duds looked like they could only titivate the very young. Let it be known, I am no kid, and I have no desire to look like one. Also, I am not a hip-hop artiste. Nor a fashionista drunk on streetwear.

While I visually examined every piece of the Club 21’s small buy of one of Paris’s biggest new brands, I touched only one item: an oversized T-shirt with shoulders that would not be out of place in an American football match. What surprised me were the shoulder pads. Loosely affixed under the shoulder, they looked like those detachable ones from the polyester crepe auntie blouses of the ’80s. On the hanger, it would not sit without flopping forward. As I looked closer, I saw that the tee’s exaggerated shape is made pronounced by iron-on interfacing applied to the underside of the yoke. Clearly, to heave, no stiffening of the shoulders is required.

As I left, I kept thinking of Claude Montana. Those old enough would know what I mean. But my thoughts were then interrupted by a magazine editor I know. “What have you seen,” she asked, as chirpy as a merbok. Vetements, I said, but, as you may have guessed, not vehemently.

Photo: Galerie Gombak

First Look: A New Balenciaga

Balenciaga AW 2016 G1

Balenciaga’s new design director Demna Gvasalia, 34, is a man of his generation, a person peering at his peers, a creative soul at one with the collective taste for borderline extremes. His debut at Balenciaga reflects the prevalent attitude towards fashion. These are clothes that cannot be categorised, consisting different elements and influences, composed for camera lenses, whether those in front of the smartphone or the filter-fitted zooms of street-style photographers. It is not a stretch to imagine Anna Dello Russo wanting them now, so that she can wear them in Tokyo next week to attend an editorial meeting at Vogue Japan, and be photographed along the way.

Mr Gvasalia’s clothes for Balenciaga need a second viewing for them to sink in, even if not deeply. There’s the temptation to seek out the signatures of Vetements, a label Mr Gvasalia established in 2013. There’s definitely the lure of making connections even if they aren’t necessarily there. Oh, those shoulders—so large that they flopped forward, aren’t they rather like those at his Balenciaga that made the models look like they’re hunching? What about the oversized shirt worn slightly away from the rear of the neck: aren’t they like his Balenciaga ski jackets with the extended-backwards neckline? Or the same-same layering and the general don’t-really-care styling at both collections? The possible presence of dotted lines has everything to do with Vetements’s increasing influence on young fashion and the lack of deliberate distancing between a new label and a nearly 100-year-old one.

Balenciaga AW 2016 G2The link to Vetements did not end there. A nagging suspicion arises: Mr Gvasalia wants to bring you back further, to a time when he was working at Mason Martin Margiela, where he stayed for eight years. That re-proportioned denim jacket strikes a chord. So do those flimsy dresses of different floral fabrics that appear to be remnants from a factory floor. And the opaque leggings, only now in candy-cane stripes (or swirls of jam in a pot of yogurt?). One can’t forget one’s formative years, that’s true, but sometimes the best of one’s training can be left behind for a du jour that’s better disconnected. It would really be nice to see output cut off from the not-so-distant past, rather than Margiela-isn’t-quite-Margiela-now-so-let’s-pick-up-from-where-we-last-left-it.

Mr Gvasalia is au courant with the zeitgeist, we’re told. That perhaps explains why his Balenciaga has to have clothes that look like fashion and can re-script the story of modern elegance. Alexander Wang tried doing that before he left last year, but was less successful than Nicolas Ghesquière. While Mr Gvasalia has been saying that he designs clothes that are to be worn rather than for a sojourn on the catwalk, it won’t be clear yet if Balenciaga’s customers will take to his couture moves veiled by a strong street sensibility. Does Balenciaga need such a makeover? Can women embrace these clothes with the same seriousness as they did back in the day? Should Balenciaga be serious at all? Hard questions are floating in the air.

Balenciaga AW 2016 G3Sometimes, there’s a sense that nobody today quite knows what to do with Balenciaga, a label with no immediately obvious sartorial codes other than those stunning shapes and silhouettes associated with the grand master himself or the photographs of Irving Penn. Unlike Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga did not seem to want to change the way all women dressed. His clients were mainly the rich and the royal, who had the means to let the couturier dress them the way he saw fit. In his 49-year career, Mr Balenciaga gave only one interview: to the first fashion editor of The Times, Prudence Glynn—also known as Lady Windlesham. “In post-war fashion,” she wrote, “Dior became a household word through the influence of the New Look, but for the purists there was only one proper direction in which to bow, Cristóbal Balenciaga.”

How do designers carrying on the Balenciaga legacy cater to these purists? Do such customers still exist? Michel Goma, the first to take on the stewardship of the house in 1987, tried, but the look he created was somewhat derivative. Next in line was Josephus Thimister, who attempted to modernise the house aesthetic, but was not terribly convincing. It would take Nicolas Ghesquière, initially a license designer before he was appointed as head in 1997, to draw the world’s attention to Balenciaga again. When Alexander Wang took over in 2013, he vacillated between contrived 1950s elegance and his own athlesiure leaning, which now looks sadly soigné in the light of Demna Gvasalia’s street vibe that mixes the awkward with the refined. In the end, do customers waiting for the next ‘Lariat’ bag really care if Balenciaga became Balenciaga again? When social media calls, probably not.

Photos: The Cut/Alessandro Lucioni/Imaxtree