Style
Where the runway meets the street

You’re probably all too aware that Vetements very publicly dropped out of fashion week this season, eschewing the spiraling cost and labyrinthine production of staging a runway show for a more intimate situation.

Now, logic would tell you that a fashion brand who sits out fashion week would lose a certain amount of fanfare. But not Vetements.

After all, its meteoric ascent to the upper echelons of fashion has broken all the rules and totally disrupted the industry’s status-quo, all while redefining the cultural zeitgeist at large.

While the label’s horrifically expensive price-points, dubious casting decisions, ready-to-troll-wear, and normcore-gone-nihilist approach to design has the industry polarized, the brand’s infectious irreverence can’t really be questioned.

Especially when Vetements is the butt of every sardonic meme, frothy-raged Twitter rant, and essayistic fashion think piece, just like the one you’re reading right now.

It’s even more apparent when you consider that the brand’s creative director, Demna Gvasalia, is now at the helm of Balenciaga – a 98-year old fashion house — all on the back of his dizzying success at Vetements, making him the most visible designer in the industry right now.

So, Demna Gvasalia’s decision to stage a Vetements “no show” during Paris Fashion Week might be one of the smartest marketing decisions he’s made so far. It’s a move that’s generated a ridiculous amount of hype, criticism, laudation, and arguably way more interest than if Vetements had simply followed fashion’s archaic rubric and just staged a runway show.

To mark Vetements breakup with fashion week, Gvasalia’ basically threw a “gallery opening-esque” party in a multi-storey carpark in Paris, showcasing blown-up portraits of the Vetements SS18 lookbook. It was closer to a photography exhibition than a lookbook, given that buyers and press alike weren’t able to see the clothes IRL, but strictly through the two-dimensional lens of a large-scale photograph.

The stylized photography that made up the lookbook itself is perhaps yet another marker of Gvsalia’s warped ingenuity. He shot the lookbook himself, on the streets of Zurich, which is Vetements new hometown, on a cast of achingly pedestrian locals.

According to Sarah Mower at Vogue, Gvasalia’s cast of normies were “sulky teenagers, whole families, a movie producer, an insurance executive, an heiress, an accountant, a motorbike enthusiast, and some pensioners.” Not a single model, but literally the people you walk past every day if you happen to live in a Swiss tax haven.

Beyond the off-kilter casting choices, Gvasalia’s very curious art direction was the most striking thing about the lookbook. Every single “nodel” takes on an angular, stereotypical fashion pose that’s historically been the reserve of waify-alien models on the pages of Vogue (and the wannabe models of Instagram).

It’s a sharp contrast to Balenciaga’s FW17 show where Gvasalia had models walk with a grotesquely rigid, anti-fashion stature that was closer to Frankenstein’s bride than Tyra Banks’ signature “period pain pose”.

Someone could quite blindly assume that the Vetements SS18 lookbook is a monograph exploring the art of iconic posing instead of a fashion collection. Seeing such lovingly unremarkable faces strike out in poses usually reserved for impossibly thin supermodels is an eerily humanizing lens on the zeitgeisty Vetements aesthetic. Gvasalia is a genius for getting these locals to master iconic fashion poses like the debutante hunch, the gargoyle bend, the ’90s waif’s wilt, and even the gangly arm drape.

Vanessa Axente and Yumi Lambert: Photographed by Mario Testino, Vogue, July 2015

While we’re used to seeing statuesque supermodels in exaggerated poses on the glossy pages of fashion editorials, it’s not every day that the creative director of the world’s trendiest brand walks up to an unsuspecting insurance executive waiting for the 9 am train to pull a “Vogue” moment in next season’s most coveted garmz and have it showcased at Paris Fashion Week.

While street casting Zurich locals is a creative feat in itself, Gvasalia’s decision to caricature the very architecture of the fashion pose in such a way is the most radical strategy about the entire thing. The pose is such startlingly simple mechanism of photography but it’s such an essential ingredient of successful art direction that many of your probably haven’t even thought about since the heyday of America’s Next Top Model.

Vogue recently reported that a Harvard Business School professor believes that “poses are powerful,” and that they also reflect the ethos of a time, be it straitlaced or relaxed. It’s also scientifically proven that power posing can actually boost your confidence, so seeing a cast of Zurich locals get animated in full-look Vetements garb is really quite cathartic for the casual viewer too. So, perhaps the Vetements kinesthetics is really all about empowerment and it’s all a call-to-action for everyone to strut the street with limbs akimbo and live your best life?

Whatever the reasoning, there’s no doubting that the Vetements bizarre catalog of poses will go down is low-key, era-defining move in the current trajectory of contemporary fashion.

Vetements SS18 trail mix of poses and reflexive irony-loaded intellect is unlike anything else in fashion right now, and it’s exactly why these viral visuals are already legendary in the pantheon of iconic lookbooks. But more so, it’s yet another bulletproof example of how Gvasalia’s carefully calculated strategy of agenda-setting, anti-fashion tactics are proving commercially and critically lucrative at every wild juncture.

Want more haute-takes on the fashion industry? Here’s why no brand can survive today without a statement piece.

Words by Kam Dhillon
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