By Emma Denison
(Full collection of pictures from the photoshoot available exclusively in the print edition of the Palatinate)
The pomp and circumstance of catwalk shows whose collections bear no relation to the actual time of year they occur, have become synonymous with what we know of the fashion industry. It has become the norm to take in shows of intricate and mostly unwearable designs, that although beautiful on professional models on the catwalk, would seem a little ridiculous in any normal setting. For example, take the sheer floor length gowns that stunned at the likes of both Alexander McQueen and Vionnet this year at Paris Fashion Week. On a catwalk in Paris – striking. On a stroll for a pint of milk or even at a black tie event – more than a little out of place.
However it is not just the streets of Durham that these collections do not reach. Surprisingly they often do not even make it to the designers’ own flagship stores. Clothes seen in the likes of New York and London Fashion Week available only to the select elite who are fortunate enough to have a creative director’s number or indeed their PA’s on speed dial. This long accepted separation of catwalk and consumer has created an air of untouchability to a global industry valued last year to be worth over 1.2 trillion dollars. Upon reflection it may begin to seem a little absurd. Surely what the industry is doing is avoiding what should be their target market. The customer.
Enter Vetements. Launching their debut collection in 2014, Vetements is decidedly the ‘cool dangerous new kid’ in the fashion industry. Although to many the name may not be as recognisable as the long established fashion houses of Yves Saint Laurent or Christian Dior, Vetements is the brand that is causing a huge industry wide shake up. The brainchild of a group of Parisian designers headed by Demnes Gvasalia, Vetements is breaking the rules of the fashion industry from the inside out. Tired of the monotony of the need to reinvent every time a new season comes around and to boost profits through pressing a new trend with each new collection, Vetements’ aim is to bring the focus back to what fashion in principle is about. The clothes. The group cleverly choosing to name themselves after their focus – Vetements meaning clothes in French.
Instead of offering collections that are seen on the catwalk and then reinvented by shops using the print or certain cut shown, the clothes that Vetements is bringing out wouldn’t be uncommon to find walking down the street. Think oversized jumpers, sloganed hoodies & t-shirts and leather jackets. Instead of focusing on an overall theme, Vetements focus on each and every piece they bring out; Gvasalia admitting that they will stop work on a piece if they are not getting anywhere with it within twenty minutes. This focus on pieces of clothes seems entirely rational. When you watch a show, movie or even enter a shop it is very rare that you will want the whole of an outfit being shown. You may like the jacket, or maybe you like the top someone is wearing but wouldn’t want to wear it with the skirt it is currently with. And Vetements has used this everyday human trait to their advantage. Their shows are a ‘mix match’ of their pieces in different formulations; their customers free to customise their purchases how they wish.
It seems strange to think that this focus on the customer and clothes is ‘ground breaking’ within the fashion industry. That acknowledging that people generally can’t afford to reinvent their wardrobe each and every time a ‘new trend’ emerges is novel. But the fashion industry was beginning to destroy itself by its own self-imposed adherence to the rules of reinvention. Customers are buying fewer clothes than in the past, stylists are seeing a drop in opulent spending and the residence of ‘Heads of Design’ are becoming as fleeting as the flow of trends they were bring out. Vetements are capitalising on this. While others are floundering, Vetements has exploded onto the scene. Their ‘accessible’ styles can be seen on every street style fashion page and Instagram post; the demand for their clothes finding them sold out on Net-a Porter and Selfridges alike. Gvasalia’s aim to create ‘a tribe’ may appeal to the human psyche of belonging, but their success maybe more accredited to the boredom within and towards the traditional fashion formula.
Any change comes with unease. The emergence of a tribe of young Instagram focused, Twitter using bloggers has caused enough in the fashion world. While some are jumping at the chance to become a part of this trend – Balenciaga appointing Gvasalia himself as their new creative director-you only have to look at the creative digital director of Vogue accusing bloggers of ‘heralding the death of style’ and the backlash towards the use of Kendal Jenner et al. by Calvin Klein, to see the unease that a surge of savvy and self directed consumers are having. And yes it may seem a little absurd that a jumper with a slogan that Vetements is selling for over £1000 could be bought at Primark for a fiver, but maybe the true beauty of Vetements is not the clothes they are selling. Maybe it is more the message they are sending out: fashion should be about the moment, the customer and the culture we live in.
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