Behind Vetements’ rule-breaking take on couture

The collective teams up with 18-plus brands for its SS17 collection – here we explore what this entailed and what it signifies

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Vetements SS17
Vetements SS17Photography Virginie Khateeb

Yesterday, tourists walking past the Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin entrance of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris might have been mistaken for thinking that there was a mega discount sale going on inside. For a throng of the fashion crowd, clutching a pedestrian store directory pamphlet (the invitation for the show) were jostling and shoving each other to get inside. This was a far cry from the usual well-mannered and relaxed pace of haute couture. Then again, this was Vetements seemingly disrupting haute couture week, as they happened to be a guest of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture this season, having shunted their show from October to July to allow for a longer period of sales.

The term ‘haute couture’ in this instance is a bit of a red herring. Of course, there were never going to be Vetements hoodies with 1,850 hours spent on feather and bead embroidery. Or an atelier of Vetements petite mains labouring over hand-stitched tailleur and draped flou dresses. Instead, Gurum and Demna Gvasalia twisted our collective idea of ‘savoir-faire’, loosely translated as ‘know-how’. No slow hands working on intricate garments here, as Gvasalia took advantage of the know-how of established brands that they had grown up with and utilised their expertise to fit the vision of Vetements. “We know and relate to these brands, and they have this know-how of doing these products in the best way,” explained Gvasalia after the show. “Last season, I met somebody from Alpha Industries and she saw our bomber jackets from previous seasons and she said, ‘Well you have at least 35 mistakes in the design.’ That’s because they really know how to make them right.”

Before the show, word had already spread that Vetements were embarking on a marathon of stellar brand collaborations. Levi’s, Reebok, Dr. Martens, Hanes and Manolo Blahnik are just a handful of the eighteen co-branded collabs that debuted in the show. They’re all tied by the fact that they have a world famous signature product speciality, ready to be recontextualised by a fashion success story that sometimes beggars belief. “It was a new way of thinking about what couture could be,” said Gvasalia. “It's not about 35 hours spent on embroidery, but it may be working with someone who is the best at doing say, shirts.”

And how did Vetements unite all of these household brands? By placing them all under the decorative dome of one of the world’s most famous department stores. Guests sat in Galeries Lafayettes’ womenswear floor in sections named after their concession proximity – Pucci, Fendi, Marc Jacobs – but these big names weren’t the protagonists. Gvasalia had a shopping mall fashion show in mind. “I love shopping malls,” he said. “Real shopping malls are the most inspiring places for fashion designers. I’m talking about real shopping malls where there is no fashion.”

Fashion did, of course, come into it. In fact, the word “fashion” was intoned in a breathy voice on a soundtrack that could well have backed a cheesy Clothes Show Live programme in the 90s. But that’s where the ironic snigger ended. Vetements’ now infamous DHL t-shirt might have been a stylistic in-joke, but they meant business when oversized boxy tailoring made by Brioni was paired with waist high wader boots by Manolo Blahnik. Or when hefty Carhartt aprons and hardy Levi’s corduroy jumpsuits stomped about with Lucchese cowboy boots all the way from Texas. Reebok’s shellsuit jackets came shrunken and tightly hooded over the head. The oversized off-the-shoulder jackets that set the tone at Gvasalia’s debut for Balenciaga took flight here with a little help from Canada Goose. Those previously ‘imperfect’ bomber jackets now had Alpha Industries to engineer them with sloped shoulders and elongated sleeves. The collab hit of the show was undoubtedly Juicy Couture’s tracksuits, reimagined as a form-fitting velour gloved body and high-waisted trousers emblazoned with “Juicy” in diamante on the arms and lower back. It’s the most contentious of fashion throwbacks and yet one you imagine creating an unexpected comeback for the brand, once favoured by Paris Hilton.

“It’s not about 35 hours spent on embroidery, but it may be working with someone who is the best at doing say, shirts” – Demna Gvasalia

And that’s the clever thing about Vetements’ partnerships. It isn’t just that they are getting the production knowledge of these long-established ‘heritage’ brands, but that many of the chosen labels are being dusted down and given a new lease of high fashion-sanctioned legitimacy. Gvasalia wasn’t afraid of pushing these brands to rip up their own rulebooks and go outside of their comfort zone and consequently they’ll gain a new legion of customers. “We destroy a lot of clothes to make new clothes,” was how Gvasalia summed up the collaboration process.

In a similar vein to Gosha Rubchinskiy’s collaborative efforts with Fila and Kappa in his SS17 collection, this was Gvasalia setting his sights on finding the best people in the business to eke out the best product he can to feed to a hungry audience. Which is why when asked whether he enjoys the lengthy dissection of the intentions and meanings behind Vetements, he simply says: “We just keep trying to dress people. For, me it’s really about what we put on, and what we express.” Whenever these ‘Vetements x …’ products start to filter onto the shopfloor (they will be hitting us in different waves), excitement will abound. The fashion industry may have been oversaturated with commonplace collaborations, but Vetements have just turned that ‘x’ into something to anticipate and covet again.

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