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BEST OF 2015: Demna Gvasalia, appointed artistic director of Balenciaga

 

Demna Gvasalia, designer behind Vetements, has been appointed artistic director of Balenciaga. To mark the occasion Numéro takes a closer look at this radical and innovative label influenced as by much the streets of Paris as vintage Margiela.

  1. Photo Mélanie & Ramon, realisation Camille-Joséphine Teisseire

Demna Gvasalia, formerly at Maison Margiela, and who neither shows his face nor takes a bow, leads a collective of ten people who design Vetements's collections that rework existing pieces such as the bomber jacket, jeans, 70s platform boots, all with the perspective of giving them new cultural significance, rather than adding a third sleeve and a bit of lace to make them look ‘designer’.

 

The approach is refreshingly seductive particularly with its accuracy and intellectual honesty. There’s no question of posing as an artist or as conceptual genius. The state of the clothing industry and the everyday social reality of his friends, a gang of ultra-cool but more or less skint creative types living Belleville and Barbès, is what inspires Demna Gvasalia and his team. But while the fiendish crew sometimes recycle pieces to make new ones, notably the high waisted, straight leg, skinny jeans assembled from two existing pairs, with their pure vintage 90s vibe – and whose instant commercial success stunned even the Vêtements team – the constant comparison with  Martin Margiela should stop right there, affirms Demna Gvasalia. “Margiela was conceptual, an avant-gardist who influences the fashion world for the last 25 years, including Vêtements. But we’re all about the product; we’re very pragmatic in our vision of fashion. It simply isn’t necessary to create a garment that doesn’t exist or to subscribe to the “fashion dream” today when the market is already saturated with so many possibilities and the clients can’t wait six months to buy what they see on the screens of their smartphones. These days the challenge is about finding a new context for fashion, so that clothing becomes a tool for personal expression. Customers and designers should ask themselves why we dress in a certain way, and who needs another designer dress that’ll end up in a museum or just hanging on a rail, but not in someone’s wardrobe.”

 

In the light of the Dépôt brothel, Vêtements showed its collection at high speed, sweaters marked with “sécurité incendie” [fire inspector] or “sapeurs-pompiers” [firemen], re-worked, re-cut and waisted to better flatter the female form, and then long coats with wide lapels and very over-size raincoats… Men like women – a post-gender spirit is clearly at home here… But also hooded tracksuits worn with down jackets dragging along the floor, a heavy metal band emblazoned black hoodie under another oversize leather jacket. A tourist t-shirt from Antwerp proudly displaying the word “Antwerpen” (crafted from thick cotton jersey clearly setting it several notches above the reality of the original model) and where Demna Gvasalia studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It all looked rather like these people had been hauled in off the street to assert their existence in front of an overly sophisticated and polished audience gazing on. As a great friend of the Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, Demna Gvasalia shares with him a talent for synthesising a new street reality in his collections. Recently selected for the LVMH prize and the ANDAM prize, this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing of the Vêtements collective.

 

By Delphine Roche

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