After two seasons of staunch anonymity, Demna Gvasalia, the head of LVMH-prize-nominated label Vetements, is ready to emerge from the shadows.
All clothing VETEMENTS throughout.
Taken from the Summer issue of Wonderland:
Demna Gvasalia was bored. Disinterested. Dispassionate. He was the senior womenswear designer at Louis Vuitton and he had fallen out of love. Each lunchtime he would ponder with a close colleague, “What’s going on? What are we doing with ourselves?” Lethargic, he’d come to rely on these sacred moments each day, time in which to reflect on what the fashion industry was becoming – and whether or not it was for him anymore.
“I saw the pressure that creative teams have from their brands,” he says. “So many collections, reinventing the brand for [each] one. Managers had stopped understanding the clothes, they just saw numbers: ‘Okay, we need three coats and ten belts designed every three months’. And I could see how it blocked the creative process for the design team.” Fashion designers no longer needed to design, they needed to produce. They needed to produce numbers. “When you are forced to do this,” Gvasalia says, “you make things that don’t make sense. And I think the final customer in the store sees that and then half of it goes in the sales, and then you see the waste. When you work in a luxury company, you definitely see the waste.”
In July 2013, Gvasalia partnered with a friend from the design team at Balenciaga to start a guerrilla fashion line. “[I wanted to] feel some kind of connection again,” he says of the project – a connection to the clothes he was making, and an understanding of why they were being made. The last thing he wanted was to hate what he did. Gvasalia paid for the fabrics himself, and used his flat in Paris as a makeshift workshop. It was, he says, like a student project. But he was excited again. “That gave us back our energy,” he says, glowing at the memory.
Vetements – the French word for “clothes” – was both an instant success and an instant oddity. Swathed in mystery, the design team, now eight-strong and growing, operated as a nameless, faceless unit. No one was to disclose information of the individuals involved, as clothes and clothes alone were the focus. But anonymity wasn’t an intentional move: all involved were still legally contracted to their jobs at design houses, and the project was technically something they couldn’t publicly align themselves with.
Gvasalia and one of the other Vetements designers had previously worked at Margiela, and comparisons to the label’s aesthetic – pared back, modern, exaggerated dimensions – came thick and fast. “It was too much. They thought [Vetements] was trying to ‘do’ Margiela,” Gvasalia laments. Instead, the troupe were taking things that existed – a skirt, a bomber jacket, an evening jacket – and de-prettifying them.
The collective’s first project saw key pieces such as trenchcoats, jeans (which Gvasalia quite whimsically calls “pants in denim”) and leathers in trademark oversized proportions, fitted with speakers that played voice recordings narrating the journey from concept to hanger. “The idea was for the person to touch the piece, to hold it, hold it close – to hug it,” he explains. “For it to be on their skin and for it to talk to them, literally, to tell their story. Suddenly there is an intimacy between the person and the clothes that was missing before.”
Gvasalia, who hates the notion of “theme” and famously refuses to cater to them each season, allows me the term “urban realism” to describe the brand’s latest ready-to-wear collection for AW15. His favourite piece from the collection is a t-shirt that reads “Antwerp”, based on a top he bought 15 years ago when he lived there, studying at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts. “We create a lot of autobiographical pieces in our collections,” he says. “I was like, ‘Well let’s do that, it’s my favourite t-shirt. If I love it, other people must too. It was an homage to the place that I came from.” Vetements’ garments often pay tribute to something of sentimental value to the group, he explains. “It must make you smile,” the designer says. “Otherwise… why?”
Photographer: Alice Rosati
Fashion Editor: James V. Thomas
Words: Hynam Kendall