Vetements is rarely written about without “the cult of” as a prefix, the French label’s skyrocketing cultural coolness underlined by the throng of celebrities and trendsetters who have embraced it (Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Kanye and virtually everyone even tangentially adjacent to the Kardashians).
Since its rise, lead designer Demna Gvasalia has been named the creative director of Balenciaga, an appointment that shook up the fashion game insofar that rarely are such new and subversive designers given opportunities in storied and established houses (he succeeded former creative director Alexander Wang). Gvasalia’s March womenswear debut for the line featured oversized, hourglass and almost frumpy plaid power suits paired with wacky takes on classic jackets—peacoats, flight, moto, denim, North Face—shaped like they were cut by conservative Cubist aliens.
Gvasalia’s oversized, over-exaggerated notions have formed the backbone of Vetements, but it’s his bourgeois interpretations of staple lines that have truly captured the fashion imagination. At the height of Vetements’s popularity, it felt cheeky—coat hooks on your belt loop, for instance, or last season’s gargantuan-sized knockoffs of Champion sweatpants. It was homage, Gvasalia said, and meant to be funny (at its best it totally was), but it was also a reframing of commonly known, otherwise “declassé” brands as the height of chic, placing them out of reach of the general, non-rich populace with exorbitant prices. An unofficial Snoop Dogg t-shirt, for example, can currently be purchased at Dover Street Market for a mere $920. (It’s almost sold out.)
It’s a concept Jeremy Scott has built a career on, though for all my disdain for Scott’s derivative nature and business practices, his idea is very plainly based on growing up in the States as an ‘80s and ‘90s kid weaned on pop culture (it’s how much he leans on those laurels that becomes a problem). Gvasalia collaborates with the brands he’s jumping on—even that DHL t-shirt was official—and his sense of humor was honed by his once-boss, the quirky Antwerp genius Walter van Beirendonck.
For Vetements’s Spring/Summer 2017 line, shown over the weekend in Paris during the couture shows—a cute but official goof—the label upped the ante on the brands that inspired it. Gone were the Champion knockoffs, in came the Champion collabos, and any question about the resurgence of the velour Juicy Couture tracksuit is now answered definitively with the onset of gloved Juicy evening gowns. As usual, the tailoring was perfectly askance, proportions unexpected and, some might project, a bit wrong; asymmetrical boot-pants (a Blahnik collab) were rendered in clubgoer metallics and went all the way up to the cooch; Reebok jackets were reconstructed in awkward geometries and Lucchese boots, the heritage American cowboy brand of choice in my hometown, got square toes and acidic new colorways. (In Wyoming, we’d call that “drugstore cowboy”ing.)
So what does it mean? It’s fun, I suppose, and the shapes are new and interesting. But I’ve also got a hunch that we’ve seen beneath the cracks a bit more, and that what seemed like an exciting, sardonic overhaul of a fashion industry that takes itself far too bloody seriously is looking a bit more like a cynical proposal of irony as substance. (Is Gvasalia, in fact, a certified misanthrope?) But maybe it’s just the idea of Vetements as messiah that needs a reset; if you like this shit, might I suggest Modell’s?