Fashion for the people? The Vetements show deconstructed
Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week
T he Vetements couture collection may have seen fashion's front row collectively echo the word "crazy" as they exited the Centre Pompidou foyer in Paris last week, but Demna Gvasalia, the man behind the brand, isn't crazy at all. Demna likes to call things as he sees them. Vetements, after all means 'clothing' in French and this season's collection is nothing short of ironic realism. Aptly titled "Stereotypes", the 36-look show at Paris Fashion Week saw the designer almost mockingly shun the very core of the industry, crushing the idea of fashion as a glass menagerie. Here's looking at a show that bordered on bad taste — think back to the middle aged man in cargo shorts and a see-through raincoat, wearing a backpack! But not everything is as it seems.
Demna is simply continuing his research — a study of humans striving to adhere to a dress code, divided by strict class rules — a notion also mirrored in the Balenciaga Men's Fall/Winter '17 collection, shown a week prior. Here Demna sought inspiration in the Exactitudes project by photographer Ari Versluis and sociologist Ellie Uyttenbroek, which looks at various social strata with a focus on repeating the style of Rotterdam Gabbers, the fashions of shoppers, grannies, punks and other city inhabitants — the very people Demna drew to the couture show. On the runway marched models deserving of the originality and eclecticism of the museum-going crowd: grannies in furs and raincoats, old gentlemen wearing velvet trousers, Polish library workers, Nigerian taxi drivers from Amsterdam, Berlin punks and fetish kids, Chinese office clerks, Trump's electorate from the Bible Belt with bolo ties, and NATO army men. Demna always did note, that sociology was his favourite subject.
While studying stereotypes, Demna also creates them. The very image he himself helped to create — a Vetements hoodie or bomber jacket, complete with jeans and a t-shirt — is a recognisable stereotype. And even though it's not really an original one, it is one associated with street fashion today. Afterall it seems, Gvasalia is simply bringing to the runway a new light because we're tired of seeing the same thing on the streets every day.
Here Demna teases both himself and us. Here are the familiar electric dresses with matching shoes and clutch bag. Here are the familiar skinhead boys in their bomber jackets and wide pants. And here's a fashionista with a pink tie in his pocket. A bourgie lady follows him, sporting a pink tweed jacket, strongly reminding us of the Chanel original.
What we see before us is a post-modernist toy. A great example is the Vetements soldier, dressed all in camo — someone who is, unlike others, forced to wear a uniform, an outcast among these tribes. His back bears a slogan: "He's a soldier, but he's a good boy! It's not his fault!" Another facet of the toy were the invitations to the show themselves — shaped like drivers IDs, they reminded guests that the fashion and subcultures they support are, in fact, a form of ID.
Fashion is a chameleonic art form, and any image offers us a manipulation of our very being: "I can make you what you truly are", says Demna. This reaches a zenith during fashion week, during which Georgian offers us his take: "Fashion is for the people" and "I am who I am". Any teenager, wearing a slogan t-shirt knows this old adage. Demna isn't destroying the old way of wearing clothing, he's only destroying our perception of it. And there is no better moment for such a destructive message and a deceptively simple collection, than at the peak of couture week.
What else can we discern from this parade of city uniforms? A denouncement of the industry itself is here! 'Tis the spirit of the times — women are on march in Washington, Syria is at war, Texas citizens are being carried away in their bathtubs by tornadoes, and Russia legalises domestic violence. The only thing that's left for Demna is to comment on the world in a more serious manner, rather than simply showing us a UN soldier. But isn't it poignant how the children of the Exactitudes project, donning their camo hoodies, are a perfect metaphor for fashion week itself — it's a show for the rich and it's street style for the fashion savvy. A future generation perhaps, who will have no choice but to wear the uniform?!