Youth driven, iconoclastic and lead by a creative ethos that looks to the street for inspiration, the Vetements design team led by Demna Gvasalia could be described as fashion’s answer to populism. A high fashion brand, charging high fashion prices, the brand’s references are found in the quotidian garments we can all understand: the jean, the parka, the hoodie and the track pant.
The Vetements vernacular translates so efficiently that everyone wants a piece of it and the brand’s influence has become immense. So what next?
With characteristic chutzpah, the Vetements team took another leap forward on Sunday when they decided to show their SS17 collection weeks before the official SS17 schedule has begun. Even bolder, they chose to stage their show amid the storied balconies of Paris department store Galeries Lafayette, during opening hours, at the beginning of couture week.
The show, set to screeching punk and cast with the team’s regular accomplices, a ragtag of friends and family who sometimes look more akin to Diane Arbus subjects than catwalk models, was no couture presentation. Shoppers hung over railings to get a look at the models stomping around the shop floor. There were as many men’s as women’s looks. For a week built on the gentle arts of craftsmanship and reverential silence, here was a show to shake things up.
The Vetements show mightn’t have been couture, but it had pretensions: the house had worked with 17 brands to produce the 54 looks, which will go in store in November, and the show was an entirely collaborative effort. Here was a mash up of high-low labels: grander brands, like the gabardine coat makers Mackintosh had made trench-coats; suit-makers Brioni had made oversized blazers. The utilitarian workwear specialist Carhartt had refashioned some overalls into an apron dress. There were Eastpak bags and Levi’s jeans, part of the brand’s ongoing associations.
The designs were clever, and covetable; a Juicy Couture tracksuit fashioned into a body conscious bodysuit looked surprisingly chic. Canada Goose had pimped up its snow jackets while Manolo Blahnik provided waist-high stiletto boots, slashed from groin to knee and finished metallic leathers. Each brand will now produce the goods for Vetements, thus obviating the need for them to manufacture themselves. In a week celebrating artisanal crafts and the art of the hand, these high-street hybrids were a stylish gesture of rebellion.
After so much realism, it was up to Versace to open couture week proper, with a collection that explored volume and drape. The collection opened with a cashmere coat, a trench cut wide on the shoulder and cleverly constructed on the body to create a deeply alluring silhouette. It was gorgeous.
Sadly, it was only an amuse bouche before a score of swirly duchesse satin gowns appeared and a collection of strictly evening looks. Donatella Versace explored daywear in her last couture outings, here the collection was held back for the night.
The palette was frosty; an ice blue dominated, though it was cut with sorbet pinks and jet black. The skirts were long and slashed to the thigh. The drapes and folds created strange sculptural patterns around the body, like the gradient lines that swirl over an ordnance survey map, or streamed in ribbony ties.
It wasn’t always entirely successful, at times the draping seemed slightly detached from the dress it was on. The collection lacked the easy grace that can come so naturally at Versace. It felt a little overwrought.
But perhaps, after so much sweatshirting earlier in the day, my eye had yet to attune to the lofty propositions of high glamour. I need to feel the tulle again.