Demna Gvasalia and Paul Franco discuss contemporary youth

As filmmaker Paul Franco debuts his latest project narrated by the designer, the two discuss social media, reality, and why you can’t really fake Vetements jeans

“I was looking for a clear understanding of what our time is composed of,” explains filmmaker Paul Franco of his latest project FASTbeat, a short film captured over the course of a year in Paris featuring model Sasha Melnychuk. So, Franco reached out to interview the man whose work has played a key role in shaping today’s fashion and youth cultural zeitgeist – Demna Gvasalia.

His speech (an extract from the full interview below) overlays the film, which Franco describes as more impressionistic than a traditional narrative. “I wanted to create a film that’s a sensation and somehow, an archive piece that we may only really understand in ten years time,” he says. “This movie is more of an emotion than it is a story.”

The resulting piece comments on the way we live our lives simultaneously on and offline; the images’ fast rhythm drawing a parallel to the overload of information in the digital world, counteracted by the slow pace of photographer Mark Borthwick’s music.

“Today, we experience a lot in a short time span. I wanted to distort time to express this feeling and a fast information flux – we cannot grasp all of the images and have to focus on the slower pace of the spoken word,” explains Franco. “It’s basically what we experience in life every day, a constant flow of information online versus the slower pace of real life. The ending is about reality and how that is what matters most.”

As the film debuts, read the full head-to-head with Franco and Gvasalia below.

Paul Franco: It seems our generation has developed a strong interest in reality in contrast to the 90s, which was more about fantasy or a dream. How do you think this happened?

Demna Gvasalia: I think reality has become very important today because of a lack of time. The dream requires time; it might feel like we were wasting it when trying to dream, or live in the dream. Now, there is no time for anything. You have to run, you have to rush, Insta-life – I feel that this will really bring us down to earth. More and more, I want to concentrate on pure things, and not drift away into the clouds. We live now – and that’s the most precious thing.

Paul Franco: Would you think of the internet as such a cloud? Forever refreshing, we receive new information and content all the time. We can enter the most diverse realities from anywhere in the world.

Demna Gvasalia: Which is paradoxical. Because it’s not reality, but on our screen.

Paul Franco: People seem to shift realities. Rather than an actual self, they build an online character.

Demna Gvasalia: Because there are many things a lot of people in real life don’t even dare to try. People have complexes, people have fears. I think when it’s on your screen you tend to lose these fears and complexes – that makes it so powerful. Once you’re hidden, you can be whoever you want.

Paul Franco: Does that make it dishonest – does it strip us of sincerity?

Demna Gvasalia: Yes, in a way. People try to protect themselves physically and emotionally, and that defines a lack of sincerity. They wear a shield around them.

Paul Franco: I approached you on Facebook. If you think back in time, Cristóbal Balenciaga felt more like a studio than an actual person, even to some journalists. Now we can have a virtual conversation any time.

Demna Gvasalia: Which is amazing, I think.

“I approached you on Facebook. If you think back in time, Cristóbal Balenciaga felt more like a studio than an actual person, even to some journalists. Now we can have a virtual conversation any time” – Paul Franco

Paul Franco: We are all closer to each other. Via social media, people become more approachable.

Demna Gvasalia: Then again, I see myself as a person first of all. I have a Facebook, I even have a relationship with someone on Facebook, which is really strange… Talking about reality is quite ironic here. It really changes communication between people. In a way people have become more sociable in real life but on the other hand, online, things are so much easier – to approach someone, or have a conversation. Or to fall in love, even.

Paul Franco: Talking to people online can be liberating. We tend to reveal more, because we don’t even consider meeting our virtual partner in real life.

Demna Gvasalia: Exactly, we are presented with freedom. Even half drunk at a party, there is still this filter in front of you – I guess because you’re physically there. On the keyboard, it’s a completely different sense of freedom. It makes interaction feel so honest and direct, which is fascinating about our times.

Paul Franco: Vetements in itself is a young brand, taking inspiration from youth – but given the price point it is not exactly directed at young people. Why do you think it still resonates with them?

Demna Gvasalia: I don’t think of our target audience as adolescents. But I do think youth is the most interesting thing in the world; the kind of naivety, the braveness, doing it your way, and questioning things. That’s the most inspiring. At Vetements, from the beginning, we realised that this was the conversation we wanted to have. The social conversation was with the youth, because that’s where you discover a lot of things.

Paul Franco: What are the symptoms of a youth that disappears to make way for maturity?

Demna Gvasalia: When you talk to somebody who is 19, 20, in their early 20s, there is much less judgment toward things. With age we become judgmental very often. They see things the way they are, and accept that.

Paul Franco: We lose our naivety.

Demna Gvasalia: With age it disappears, unless you learn how to handle it. Still it remains very hard to keep. That’s the most interesting thing about young people – they have an openness and passion towards things. They’re passionate about having a hoodie and passionate about some new track that just came out. They can be passionate about those things.

Paul Franco: What I really liked from the beginning at Vetements was this sincerity of the process, and how you make this sincerity accessible. Which reminds me of the story when you found a pair of trainers in the medina of Marrakech, which said Nike on the side…

Demna Gvasalia: …and adidas on the top.

Paul Franco: I bring this up because I recently read an article with instructions to copy Vetements jeans just by cutting the hem.

Demna Gvasalia: Of course you can fake them.

“The most immense and incredible feeling I remember in the beginning of the 90s and for the people of my generation, was this notion of freedom” – Demna Gvasalia

Paul Franco: How do you feel about that?

Demna Gvasalia: Well, you can fake certain things, but you cannot make them the same. These jeans need a whole system of processing – it’s about their fit and how they work. There is a lot of process behind them, though visually they are very simple. So for Instagram you can fake it but for real life, to wear them and feel flattered, to feel that your butt looks good – you can’t really fake that by just cutting the hem.

Paul Franco: I have never been to Russia – I lived in Berlin, but…

Demna Gvasalia: That’s nowhere near the same.

Paul Franco: I feel there is some kind of a new Russian avant-garde, which gives hope to many people. What’s interesting about this Russian aesthetic is its roughness and authenticity. It feels relatable irrespective of social background or location.

Demna Gvasalia: Because all of these things have already happened in Western culture, they are something you can relate to on some level. In Russia everything happened much later, it was very much behind in terms of cultural and social developments. The part of this – what they call ‘Eastern European’ thing – that people can relate to here is almost nostalgic.

Paul Franco: I feel it can help people grow and give them an idea of everything being possible.

Demna Gvasalia: It rather is about being daring, in a way. ‘Whatever, we don’t care about those rules, we want to do it our way.’ I think that’s mood we had after the Soviet Union collapsed. That’s when I was a teenager, and the people I work with now also come from there. It was a period we all know very well; this idea of suddenly having things available – suddenly you could do things, and that spirit is exactly what would present that feeling of hope. A kind of new European dream with its possibilities and freedom. The most immense and incredible feeling I remember in the beginning of the 90s and for the people of my generation, was this notion of freedom. Now we have lost it a little bit in Europe, in the exchange for Western culture. Russia today is the opposite of freedom, which is a paradox.

Paul Franco: To me as a European, this aesthetic feels like a new vision and hope. To be honest about our realities. Apart from it already being a trend, do you think it could become an actual sensibility for the youth of the world?

Demna Gvasalia: I don’t know if it’s a new vision – I mean, there is actually nothing new about it at all. It’s all based on a certain period of time which is not even ten years ago. It might feel new for those teenagers who are 15 years old… they don’t know about all of this stuff, so for them it is different from the things they have seen in the past decade. I don’t think it’s a vision, but rather a certain aesthetic that is easy.

Paul Franco: I like to understand it as a way of life.

Demna Gvasalia: It is a way of life too. At Vetements we are product oriented, but in the end we do create some kind of following in terms of people who like us or don’t like us. For those who do, it is a kind of lifestyle at the end of the day – they’re not likely to sit in college learning mathematics. It gives you a certain energy, and I believe that’s the most important part of it. It’s what I feel each time we do a show. For us, it’s less important to show the clothes than to express an energy and their dynamics.

Paul Franco: Has Vetements changed your vision, your idea of our generation and culture?

Demna Gvasalia: It hasn’t really changed. I think however, the brand has enhanced the impact our culture and our society have on us. We live in Paris and work here – the things happening today and what we see on the street, a certain aggression and maybe a fearful attitude, definitely have an effect on us. We translate that into our work. So I feel it’s the opposite which defines us: we overcome fear by doing what we do.

Paul Franco: Would you mind if the movie features the line: ‘From everything to nothing’?

Demna Gvasalia: From everything to nothing and back to everything, I would say. I think it’s a circle that we are running in, it never ends. That’s the nice part of it.

Paul Franco: I feel this sentence could mean a lot for Vetements.

Demna Gvasalia: More than that, it’s a very accurate sentence in the wake of what’s happening in the world. I think we need to go back to nothing to be pure again. I believe deconstruction is the meaning of creation.