How does one label completely turn the fashion world on its head? In an exclusive interview, Miroslava Duma chats to the men behind the mania
We know fashion loves to speak in hyperbole. But we're not kidding when we call French-born label Vetements the It-brand of 2016. Click through any street style gallery or Rihanna/Bieber/Kimye pap shot over the last 12 months and your eyeballs will no doubt be assaulted by the sight of a Vetements-branded hoodie or tee, and those pieced-together-Levi's jeans - yep, they're that brand. Buro 24/7 founder Miroslava Duma sat down with the brothers behind the label, Demna and Guram Gvasalia, to talk fashion memes, DHL shirts and what makes a hoodie worth its $1000 price tag.
MD: Fashion critics talk about "the aesthetic of ugliness" in your collections. But there's also a deep nostalgia for teenage years. Do you consider yourself a fashion rebel or a storyteller?
DG: I think we are none of that. Usually the stories we want to tell get formed right before the shows. Yes, we have so-called sources and references which we use. For example, the school uniform from Soviet Union times means a lot to me and to many people in our team. But we don't try to tell any story. We just create clothes and the things we create really mean something to us.
MD: All your clothes are created within a kind of fashion context. Do you find it surprising that people who are so far away from the cultural context also wear your clothes?
DG: It's strange, but in a pleasant way. I'm surprised when 16-year-old teenagers from Brooklyn wear our sweatshirts and hoodies without understanding the connotations behind them, but they wear it for different and individual reasons. The most interesting part is their story: they save up to buy this hoodie (and it costs about US$700, which is quite a significant amount for a teenager) - so I wonder what the reason is? For them it could be having attitude and feeling cool. The reason behind them wanting and liking the hoodie may be very different to my reason for creating it, and that's what makes it interesting.
MD: I guess Vetements is the coolest brand of the moment...
DG: I'm not sure about being the coolest. We don't do anything to be cool. I don't think we are cool. And we definitely don't try to convince people that we are. I always think about the people I know: "What would they wear?" And I always ask for feedback - that's the way we create. And it's a great compliment for us if our work communicates with so many people.
MD: That's the great phenomenon of Vetements - people who had never been in your target audience became your fans instantly.
DG: And among them names like Rihanna, Kanye West and Justin Bieber - they just go to stores and buy our clothes. Today everything becomes popular in seconds because of the internet and Instagram. All it takes is for a famous person to wear our items, take a photo and all their fans become interested in Vetements in seconds.
MD: Some of your products were featured on Internet memes - the DHL T-shirts, for instance. Do you worry about this?
DG: You think they speak ironically about the brand, don't you? People comment on our jeans for costing €1,300. But I can explain the reason and work behind it that justifies the cost. Our Vetements raincoat costs €135, which is a more accessible price and therefore everyone buys it. A guy from Brooklyn recently created Vetememes as a project because he was tired of seeing people in the same raincoat. I don't worry about people laughing at the brand but I find it flattering when people talk about it.
GG: Recently a picture of Ken Allen, CEO of DHL, appeared on the internet. He was wearing our DHL T-shirt - showing his support for the brand. Prior to making that T-shirt we received permission from DHL to use their logo. It was a limited production of 250 pieces [which explains] the high price. The less quantity you produce, the higher the production price.
DG: We made the DHL T-shirt because it was a real concern for us. We pay a huge amount of money per month for their service. And yet every day, I hear from our team, "Stop using DHL!" DHL became a part of my life! So I thought of doing something about it. All those brands like Levi's and Champion are in their own [ways] meaningful to us. I don't go to a forest [and wait] for a fairy or a muse to come. I just look around and get inspiration from life.
MD: From now on, you'll show your collections outside Fashion Week. Why?
DG: I don't want to make popular hoodies for the next 20 years. It's time to change something. Our S/S '17 collection will be presented in July because it makes sense for the business. So the upcoming season is going to be crucial for us. We're planning to redefine the brand after that.
MD: So it's not only the show schedule that's changing?
DG: That's correct - we will change a lot of things. And that's all about business. We want to separate the commercial and creative parts.
MD: Most designers are moving away from gender boundaries and designing andrognous collections, but you recently added a menswear line. Why?
DG: Some clothes like T-shirts, hoodies, etc. can be unisex. But there's no such thing as unisex jeans. We worked for a week trying to find a fit that's perfect for women with this or that figure. Men have a completely different body type to women. They need a different cut and fit. So we decided to make clothes for men. Not for mannequins or size zeros, but for real bodies. The idea came to us because we saw the demand.
MD: The demand for your clothes is high indeed. Vetements is a rare brand that doesn't go on sale. You said once that you value exclusivity...
DG: A funny thing happened in Seoul - they started to sell our new collection before we had even produced it! They just copied the items from Vogue Runway without paying any attention to construction, cut, texture - nothing! They just tried to make what they saw on a picture. Guram is working on that problem [because] we really care about the exclusivity of our clothes.
MD: Let's talk about your latest collection. It was a little scandalous but still very impressive...
DG: You mean the 'You F*ck'n Asshole' T-shirt, right?
MD: And 'May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way'...
DG: That's my favourite phrase! My personal tagline. I had some tough times not so long ago when I wanted to burn down all the bridges, then I found a print with this phrase on Instagram. It became something like a motto for me. This season was rich in messages. That was the way to express our emotions both negative and positive. We felt some kind of aggression and went through some dark and unpleasant times. So every member of our team contributed to this collection. It's interesting because all those taglines came directly from the internet. They spoke to us, but they were not our words.
GG: Let's say it was a dialogue between today's youth and us.
MD: We don't know much about you. Tell us what happened in the years between being born in Sukhumi, Georgia and entering the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts?
DG: Well, the war happened. Bomb shelters, military passes, years when I was told I was a refugee even in Georgia - all of that happened. A lot of horrible and ugly things happened but I always remembered what I really wanted to be. I am so grateful to God that he allowed me to be where I am now. I wake up every morning and go to my work - whether it's Vetements or Balenciaga - with joy.
MD: Have you always known that Guram is the business brain and Demna is the creative?
GG: Demna drew dolls on the cardboard, cut them out and dressed them up. Those dolls had their fashion shows. And I sold tickets to those shows.
DG: I never thought of Vetements as something serious until Guram saw what we were working on and said it can become a business.
GG: It was destiny and a coincidence. We were in the right place, at the right time. No doubt Demna has a talent, but we got the right product out there when people were ready to accept it. It is something that cannot be calculated or logically thought of.