If you’re talking about fashion in 2016, you’re probably talking about Vetements. Only 18 months ago, the Paris-based label was still a relatively underground phenomenon – today it’s a global movement of incredible influence. Look around, and you’ll see Vetements’ influence everywhere – in those oversized shirts, elongated sleeves, awkward garment combinations. But if you grew up in a post-Soviet country, perhaps you’ll also recognise some very familiar sights ingrained into the brand’s DNA.
Demna Gvasalia (creative director of Vetements and since recently Balenciaga) and his brother Gurum (the brand’s CEO) were born in Soviet Georgia and lived in Ukraine and Russia before moving to Germany with their family. Meanwhile, Demna’s ever-present collaborator and stylist Lotta Volkova comes from Vladivostok in the Russian Far East (and occasionally sports a hoodie which reads “Russian mafia new world order”).
Vetements is definitely about global youth, put together from a wide range of references borrowed from subcultures, uniforms, and national backgrounds – but the traces of culture from behind the Iron Curtain and of its dramatic fall are very visible in their creative work. Here, we dissect Vetements’ heritage.
Whether Champion or DHL, reworking brands and logos is a Vetements trademark, however a real understanding of their symbolic power might well come from an unlikely place. During the capitalist boom of the 90s, newly-opened markets across the post-Soviet territory were flooded with Chinese knock offs of cult sports brands, sometimes looking authentic, sometimes distorted or even misspelled (Abibas or Naik). Adidas stripes could end up on one sweatshirt with Kappa logo, hanging right next to a “Versace” t-shirt. Every kid dreamt of “USA” baseball caps and Levi’s jeans, and probably so did Demna Gvasalia. This doesn’t end with Vetements, though – Gosha Rubchinskiy also tapped niche sportswear brands like Fila in his last collection, mixing them with his own logo in Cyrillic.
FLOWER PRINTS ON SOVIET KITCHEN OIL CLOTH
If you grew up in a post-Soviet country, the stiff and shiny oilcloth aprons in Vetements’ SS16 collection would immediately trigger memories of sunlit kitchens and the domestic flower print you’d find on curtains in your grandma’s house. Of course, florals aren’t limited to the former Eastern Bloc – but the influence of workwear and the stiff silhouette hints at the Soviet working class female. Even today, your chances of seeing a similar-looking apron on a Russian mother or grandmother are relatively high.
VILLAGE DISCO VIBES
With Vetements, the concept of good taste and bad taste is turned on its heads or dismissed altogether. The best place to look for similar vibes is post-Soviet village discos, often located in former culture houses with backrooms full of discarded Soviet movie posters and Lenin paintings. Decorated in a DIY manner with disco balls, curtains and whatever the organisers could find, these spaces represent the violent clash of history and modernity happening on the dancefloor. Lithuanian photographer Andrew Miksys spent over ten years photographing village discos remembered that he was captivating by “a crumbling past, and the uncertain future of a new generation together in one room.” In 2016 he revisited the settings for a special Dazed Vetements editorial.
SUITS JACKETS OF 90S CRIMINAL BOSSES
For someone who witnessed the wild post-Soviet capitalism of the 90s, ill-fitting suits and jackets with massive shoulder pads will be forever synonymous with criminal bosses cruising the streets in their BMWs. Worn with a tank top and gold chain, the jacket used to be a symbol of luxury and status; and its colour and size were meant to impress rather than appear tasteful. The voluminous suit jacket has been one of Vetements’ key items from the beginning, appearing in multiple collections in different colours and materials – most recently, in the form of a reworked Brioni suit for SS17. The same reference to the 90s mobster power dressing could be spotted in Gosha Rubchinskiy’s latest showing at Pitti which opened with three similarly ill-fitting, oversized suits.
Thigh-high boots are now a crucial component to Vetements’ look, and have been present in the brand’s last four collections: either tight and elastic like stockings or bulky and voluminous like rubber fishing gear. Most recently, they collaborated with Manolo Blahnik for the stunning result of radiant purple, electric blue, emerald, pink, black and orange boots which went almost as high as the waist. In many post-Communist countries like Russia, Ukraine and Poland, thigh-high boots are very much part of your everyday reality as a beloved wardrobe staple of local women who could easily wear them in the morning on the train to work.
80S UNDERGROUND ROCK
Vetements visual references to heavy metal and gothic rock (see prints in AW15 and AW16) have been noted numerous times although if you come from Russia certain details might remind you of faded posters above your older brother’s desk. Scruffy 80s hair cults echo the look of rock icon Viktor Tsoi, who was a symbol of rebellion for a whole generation of 80s Soviet kids disappointed with the establishment. Heavy leather used for trousers and coats present in numerous collections also resemble the looks of marginal rock fans.
CYRILLIC LETTERS AND AN UNDERGROUND MUSIC ICON
Coded messages in curvy Russian letters is not something Vetements use very often: there is only one scarf in AW15 which, despite the look, doesn’t belong to any football team, but simply spells out Vetements Paris in Cyrillic (“ОДЕЖДА ПАРИЖ”). This year Gvasalia also released a capsule collection of hoodies in collaboration with Zemfira, Russian music icon since the late 1990s. The black hoodie simply has the musician’s name in Cyrillic (ЗЕМФИРА) on the from and back.
HUGE BAGS – A BALENCIAGA BONUS
Enormous laundry style bags turned into high class accessories could be interpreted in many ways, but if you happened to live through the 90s, it would trigger another memory. Enormous bags with recognisable striped pattern were used to smuggle foreign goods into the country to sell them later. Every second person had parents who gave up their career in science or military to trade, which often resulted shifting enormous amounts of bags stuffed with clothes.
Follow Anastasiia Fedorova on Twitter here @anastasiia_f