7 reasons Vetements is the bastard attire of a broken generation, or am I just depressed?
A sixteen-strong Parisian design collective bursts onto the fashion circuit with their premier collection in 2014 and in only four seasons (aka two years) their founder 34 year old Demna Gvasalia (formerly of Margiela and Louis Vuitton) is appointed to Creative Director at Balenciaga and their hype hits XXXL proportions. They produce contrarian mallgoth style collections that sell out immediately and inspire memes and knock-offs. Kanye West has practically had one of their black hoodys sewn onto his torso. If you were at all unclear about what has unilaterally been deemed way cooler than simply not being naked right now, it’s Vetements.
But if you’re also following their meteoric success without an ironic streetstyle blog to update, a vaporwave mixtape to drop, or an inclination to vote for Trump and watch the world burn, you might have observed Vetements’ ascent with a couple of questions. Is it chic that those with money to spend on cultivating visual personas are adopting the silhouettes of skinheads, rioters and police? Is it ok when these archetypes have activated roles in global political theatre? Is it cool that the label hasn’t cast a single black model in four seasons comprising a minimum of 30 looks each (164 chances to be precise)? Does any hoodie warrant the price of two months worth of organic groceries? If you are still set on buying into it, does that make you a knowing accelerationist, a fashion victim, or both? Which is hotter?
I can’t answer any of those for you, that’s what your moral compass is for (if you haven’t sold it for an Uber during surge pricing) but here is a takedown of the conditions that have made the label suddenly so successful in 2016:
1 – Fashion is Fraught
You can’t scroll up or down during fashion week without running into some think piece about why Zara is anti-semitic, casting directors are misogynist homophobic racist perverts and models are bad role models who are being ritually sacrificed to Karl. As if anyone is surprised. As if fashion was ever a progressive, principled institution and as if visibility lends responsibility on a planet of 7 billion disparate souls. The label’s sinister GAF* styling sticks two polished fingers to the pitfalls of acting sensitively because maybe we’re all sick of SJW** callout culture, maybe we’re all sick of “Fashion”, maybe it’s think piece fatigue?
*Give a Fuck
**social justice warrior
2 – The garments are Satanic
Like predecessor micro-trend “normcore”, the oversized hoodies and slouchy cuts that define Vetements are the logical conclusion to "Netflix and Chill" nihilism. The branded POLIZEI capes would be frightening enough without silhouettes that remind you of Abu Ghraib and cults. The agro all-caps slogans ("you fuck'n asshole", "may the bridges i burn light the way" etc.), are set obnoxiously in gothic type beside pentagrams.
But by far the most sinister thing about the brand’s success is the embrace of their appropriated global logistics company logos DHL. I loathe DHL. It is the titan of shoddy logistics, the yellow face of globalized ineptitude. If you were to seal your shipment in an old shoe lubed with excrement and hurl it from a balcony into a passing Müllwagon it would have more chance of reaching its destination than it might do sent shipped via DHL. Any reference to the postal service is nothing if not occult. And maybe an inside joke for harried stylists like myself. Or indeed any creative class labourer, yet everyone is like “LOL so #funneh I tagged @vetements_official in this snap of a DHL van!!!”. Capitalism is witchcraft.
3 – Made by millennials for millennials
Let’s be real, your aunt in Göttingen probably hasn’t heard of Vetements. The hype around the label is a feedback loop created by people who regularly use the internet for other people who regularly use the internet. And the attitude in each collection so far is emblematic of this, producing styling memes that have spread through fashion and social media like wildfire. Not only styling details like frayed hems and oversized cuts, but literal memes. We all know by now that head designer Demna Gvasalia worked at Margiela and has seized on their waggish design strategy, but why is it working so well a second time around?
The allusions that can be read in each collection are far more complicit than critical. Specifically the bootleg movie merch (the Titanic hoody) and sportswear (the Champion style logo rip-off) as well as the corporate uniforms (DHL again). There’s this knowing nod to the new millennial/NEET precariat class too – those jagged hems, the sporty healthgoth sock boots, the Bic-lighter heel boots, even the sliced up tourist tee (Antwerps). All familiar motifs to a highly networked mobile working poor, albeit priced at around the same cost of a month’s rent in a shared apartment in most European capitals.
But then, even if the joke is at their expense, millennials don’t need to attain something to admire (or even ‘LIKE’) it. There’s a different button for that. It’s more about ‘getting’ the references. Part of the joke is that the real putz is the one paying for them.
4 – The house that Gosha built that ate itself
Before there was Vetements there was Gosha Rubchinskiy. And before there was Gosha there was Supreme. And after each of those there was Palace and Hood By Air: the fuccboi theory of evolution. Back in deep time, before Instagram, you’d learn about street style brands by hanging out at skate parks and clubs. Now though, besides obvious places like eBay, Etsy and IRL fleamarkets or shops, there are dedicated streetwear p2p resale platforms like the Depop app or Wavey Garms, Wavey Kicks, Ninety Fly, Supreme Talk UK/EU and Dutty Streetwear on Facebook. Not to mention more legit consignment sites like Grailed, blogs like High Snobiety and Hypebeast and forums for threadheads like /r/FashionReps and /r/streetwear. This “internet hype culture” thirsts for easily recognizable items and that’s why Vetements flourishes here: you can throw on your frayed hem jeans or your DHL/sliced up Antwerp tee and They Will Witness You. You don’t even have to go out, you can just wear the clothes for Instagram! Don’t forget to find a DHL van to pose beside for extra points.
5 – VETEMEMES
These community hubs are also why there’s an aftermarket for Vetements. The best example of this is VETEMEMES, started by David Tran as a parody of the French brand. He told WGSN “I wanted to start with the raincoat because of how “meme” it is.” His knockoff raincoat sells for $59 while the original coats cost anywhere from $100 (probably fake) to $700 on resale sites. And so like a cultural whack-a-mole or a fashion version of New Abstraction, Vetements has spawned evil. Our Lord King Justin Bieber’s official merch and this week’s pop-up shop at VFILES also owes plenty to the label. Then there are the actual memes which are bountiful and good. All of this only reinforces the credential of the original and maybe you’re secretly disappointed you didn’t think to order a $6.50 official DHL shirt when the gesture was still fresh and ironic too?
6 – Fashion is Thirsty
Vetements have been hot and hard to get hold of since their first collection. This is not usually the strategy for young brands, more normally filtered by cheerily contoured bots overly keen to get their wares noticed by the right eyes in the right context but not so militant about what that could mean. Even after only one collection it was difficult to loan Vetements samples. I know because I heard other stylists complain about it and because I myself am a victim of their discriminating editorial policy. I wanted to use Vetements for a shoot for TANK and their PR held me respectfully at bay. “We already started being even more selective about our distribution, limiting and handpicking the stores we want to be at. Same with our exposure in terms of press. We are starting to be a lot more strategic. And if someone tries to invest in Vetements, we will refuse any offer that we think might cannibalize our brand.”
And that Yeezy seal of approval? Apparently ALL the Kardashians had to go gift themselves for once: “Several celebrities have worn our stuff. They had to go and buy it at the store like everyone else.” Demna has said.
7 – Artificial scarcity
The brand’s success is actually the deliberate result of a simple but solid luxury strategy. “Stores cannot buy more than ten pairs of jeans and Italian stores are not allowed to buy more than four pieces of jersey in one style” said the other Gvasalia, Demna’s younger brother Gurum and CEO of the label. “We are always trying to change the supply curve, making it just a little bit less than the demand curve, to make sure that you sell out”. This takes a cue from Apple, which despite having the most sophisticated and robust manufacturing supply chain in the world, routinely suffers from unexpected ‘supply constraints’ whenever they launch a new product in order to ensure their brand’s trademark overnight lines of neckbeards and Chinese mafia.
Despite the column inches stating the contrary, Vetements isn’t disrupting anything that doesn’t want to be disrupted. Vogue has called Vetements “Clothes for the revolution” “A brand opting for change” with a “democratic ideology…posing a radical challenge to the fashion world” but the truth is they’re just responding to an inefficient model of industry that is ripe for improvement and the market is responding. They’re leading the way in collapsing presentations into two unisex offerings per year (as opposed to the existing model of countless divided season and pre-seasonal offerings). This decellerationist gesture might seem like a critical disruption, and maybe it is radical now, but it’s only a matter of time before it’s adopted by other companies if it proves successful. So what’s next? Vetements style anti-diffusion lines? Biennial collections? If you’re less concerned about rising sea levels or Isis than slick dressing for a disorderly world, better start saving for next season now.
Ella Plevin is a writer, artist and stylist from London. She is currently based in Berlin.
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