When VETEMENTS hit the scene in 2014, it quickly upended the fashion industry’s understanding of what contemporary “anti-fashion” could be. Described as a “design collective”, the brand’s philosophy has always been irrefutably “anti-luxury”, even if its prices posed a contradictory argument. But VETEMENTS’ anti-luxury persona extends beyond dollar signs and into the cultural ephemera where the brand grew. Under the creative direction of Demna Gvasalia (before he became a mononym), the business direction of his brother Guram, and an overall theme of recontextualization, VETEMENTS quickly became one of the most popular brands of the mid-2010s.
But VETMENTS’ management was shaken when Demna left in 2019, leaving the collective without a creative leader and in the hands of Guram, who became the brand’s creative director in 2021. The brand has since returned with a new range of collections and a particularly interesting interview with The New York Times, which shed new light on its leader. This still raises the question: can VETEMENTS find its former star?
What has remained true about the brand through all of its changes is its aforementioned recontextualist core – an innate ability to turn the mundane into magic. Take its signature SS16 DHL t-shirt, the oversized yet classic FW16 bomber jackets, its SS17 apron dresses or even its FW22 energy t-shirts that riff on the Energy Star logo: with all these pieces, the brand has managed to subvert the familiar in a way that was edgy, but palatable.
VETEMENTS’ firm grip on reinvention even extended to the brand’s accompanying lookbooks and campaigns. The SS18 collection lacked a formal presentation and instead chose to capture random citizens in Zurich imitating stereotypical fashion poses in photographs taken by Demna. It perfectly exemplified what the brand was created to embody: the everyday person (something those who spend a lot of money on clothes love to emulate), which is why the brand managed to connect with an audience wide: SSENSE vice president for menswear, Freddy Barassi, has noted double-digit growth for the brand every season since it was stockpiled in 2015. But it’s also no secret that when the work of Demna for Balenciaga began to gain momentum after joining the house in 2015 as creative director, VETEMENTS began to move into a liminal creative space solidified by Demna’s departure in 2019. Now, however, a very Guram Gvasalia public is confident that under his leadership, the brand’s work will eclipse its entire past.
CLOTHING is Guram’s first creative director role, and the strength of his chops has yet to be determined. With the few collections under his belt so far, the businessman-turned-designer has built on the VETEMENTS core, and most would conclude it’s been surprisingly good. “Other looks layer oversized t-shirts over jackets and shirts, a counter-intuitive idea that nonetheless looks distinctive,” says Nicole Phelps, Fashion Show Global Director, about the brand’s FW22 collection. “It brings it back to the next generation, which has a weird way of making the counter-intuitive suddenly seem right.” The Fall/Winter 2022 collection, Guram’s first for the house, featured a slew of hourglass blazers, oversized outerwear and skin-tight velvet suits alongside staples like digitally cutting-edge tees – all commenting on new age/crypto millionaire social media, a step in a new direction after years of stagnation caused by repetitive brand signings (see FW18 and FW19). Guram’s first collection, on the other hand, was exciting and in tune with the times, to say the least. However, that was still only Guram’s starting point.
Questions begin to arise if Guram was influenced by his brother’s work in any way, which makes sense as they worked together for several years. Its latest for the Spring/Summer 2024 season is perhaps its most appealing yet – demonstrating that VETEMENTS may well be on the rise again. Offering a bold take on hybrid streetwear, Guram poses colossal, form-fitting silhouettes. Some garments like blazers and outerwear practically drowned the model, while others hugged her svelte figure before stepping out in a fishtail. Some of the most striking pieces came from the evening wear department with sculpted bodice dresses, sequined mermaid dresses and bell-shaped velvet dresses. But in its grandeur, it’s hard not to notice the collection’s resemblance to some Balenciaga de Demna garments.
Take, for example, hourglass blazers, cocoon-shaped dresses or the bold shoulders of tight tops. The first of which Guram called himself in an interview with The New York Times“These dresses, they’re much, much smaller,” Guram said of the Balenciaga versions. “I also think if you look at them next to each other, ours are much better.” While some of these shapes weren’t Balenciaga’s inventions, it’s hard to ignore that their contemporary editions have come to be known as Balenciaga’s staple silhouettes during Demna’s tenure – a fact that Guram is keenly aware of.
But curiously, there seem to be conflicts between the Gvalia brothers. “I think my brother is very talented, but I have a completely different approach to things,” Guram told The New York Times. “He’s had his good run of 10 years, and I think his time is slowly approaching its finish line. Now it’s my time. Although Balenciaga has recently declined due to its publicity scandal, the passage of Demna at home has established a recognizable look, which has captivated a wide audience.With Demna’s help, Balenciaga’s sales have grown from $390 million in 2015 to around $1.312 billion in 2021. But overcoming Demna’s work will not be easy, or even necessary, for VETEMENTS to be successful under Guram.
When Hypebeast asked VETEMENTS and Guram about Demna and any potential design influence he may have had, Guram declined to comment on the matter. Naturally, every creative is keen on building their own identity, which is evident by Guram’s new public persona, but, instead of changing the narrative, their lack of commentary on the situation deserves even more attention. He also declined to comment on his decision to be more outspoken and the direction he is taking with VETEMENTS. Which begs the question: is the newly minted designer the brand’s greatest asset, greatest liability, or both?
There’s no doubt that Guram’s designs for the brand are solid, with a degree of eye-catching exaggeration that works against wearability. “It’s about changing history, changing the history of Vetements and maybe putting a little bit of effort into putting something new in fashion history,” Guram said. Fashion Show. But we’d be remiss if we ignored Guram’s recent comments about his brother and his silence on the matter.
Don’t get me wrong, Guram’s new direction for VETEMENTS is generating comeback rumors. The new emphasis on luxury that fuses both street-focused and bespoke styles is appealing. However, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding what’s going on behind the scenes and whether Guram will take the brand to new heights. But with new management comes an updated personality and it will take a few more seasons to see if Guram’s visions of greatness will match the brand’s success.