New York has long been considered the home of urban cool but things have changed with the arrival of Vetements, the Paris-based collective led by Demna Gvasalia and his brother Guram. The label burst on to the fashion circuit in September 2014 with a collection of hoodies, dresses, rain slickers (that retail for an accessible £100) and distressed denim jeans (that cost a whacking £800), and has since been adopted as mandatory uniform among fashion cognoscenti and financially well-furnished street kids alike.
Nothing about Vetements is normal. The collective is built on friendships and shared interests, and the designers were largely unknown until Demna was nominated by Kering to take on the creative direction of Balenciaga last September. In the intervening months, the brand has become white hot. Fashion etailer matchesfashion.com say it was one of the five best performing labels last month when its new season stock arrived, far eclipsing bigger and better known labels without their advertising or publicity.
Vetements power lies in its practical, believable design. Customers have responded to the brand’s clear-eyed focus, distinctive but not overly conceptual design and playful sense of humour. It looks fresh and, most importantly, it feels authentic.
Comparisons have been inevitable in New York, where similarly “street-edged” contemporary wear is so much of the business. Not much has measured up. At Hood by Air, the label founded in 2006 with a collection of slogan tees, the AW16 show was overly theatrical and tricksy. Ditto Jeremy Scott. At Alexander Wang, shouty words like “Tender” and “Strict” were interwoven with prim tweed suits and marijuana-leaf motifs, which were more cute than cool. Public School designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne wrapped their catwalk in blanket coats, bomber jackets and biker boots. There were good pieces in all the collections, but they just didn’t have that same urgent appeal.
Chow and Osborne are also now responsible for DKNY, and their second collection found them re-examining the house codes Donna Karan established back in 1984. “We want to explore what we built in the first season — deconstruction, tailoring and pinstripes, but make it more playful,” said the show notes of a collection “inspired by strong girl bands from the 1990s”.
The pinstripes were padded out and puffed into jackets, classic poplin shirts were oversized and panelled in lace, there was lots of quilting and new riffs on slogan dressing. “Insert logo here” read the tags on T-shirts, sweats and shirting. The models made their finale in black sweatshirts emblazoned with a play on the DKNY initials: “Designers Know Nothing Yet”, “Don’t Knock New York” and “Dazed Kids New York”.
It all felt a bit overcomplicated. Do women want to wear a slashed waist pinstripe jacket with exposed midriff? Or a shredded ripped rose satin viscose sweatshirt?
If Vetements (or for that matter Kanye West’s incredibly successful Yeezy) has taught us anything, it’s that simplicity is all. Its appeal has been built on paring down the wardrobe into a few key items — a novel jean shape, cult dress, a stand out boot etc — and building from there. Donna Karan invented the concept of the “seven easy pieces”. Rather than keep “messing with” lots of ideas, I felt DKNY, like many other labels here, would be made stronger by going back to basics.