When we deemed Demna Gvasalia “the first designer to truly understand Internet culture,” it was meant to indicate that his sensibilities as a designer coincided with the values and expedited sense of want that comes along with growing up in the digital age.
“If we spend more than 20 minutes on [a design], we just cancel it because it doesn’t feel right,” he said in the past as a means of illustrating how he feels that fashion design shares a similar DNA with something quick to make like an Internet meme.
His notable creations for his label, Vetements, have referenced a deluge of influences that are meant to be interpreted both in an ironic sense — like in the case of his homage to DHL – to more poignant displays of place and time – like the Jack and Rose-emblazoned sweatshirt honoring Titanic. Of course, that recipe is essentially what fuels anything that goes viral.
For as groundbreaking and disruptive as Gvasalia has been, he has also taken several cues from brands and designers who have come before him. As we’ve pointed out, many of his aesthetics like deconstructed philosophies, oversized fits, patchwork denim, and across the body logos all stem from his time at Maison Martin Margiela.
Gvasalia himself has noted that his interest in fashion stems from his upbringing in Georgia where the lack of information about the world eventually led him down that fateful path to began his fashion tutelage in Antwerp. Whereas some of us fall down the YouTube rabbit hole, that’s essentially what happened to him.
“I was interested in fashion, I just didn’t know much,” he said. “Some people came to Antwerp and knew everything. At the entrance exam, one of the panel asked me who I knew from the Belgian generation of fashion designers and I just said Dries van Noten because that was the only name I actually knew and could pronounce.”
He was once, and still is, a student of fashion. Thusly, Gvasalia continues to honor not only the physical attributes of past collections, but even the strategies as well.
In June of this year, Balenciaga, under the creative direction of Gvasalia, hosted a successful pop-up experience on the first floor of Parisian boutique, colette, where attendees were treated to the fall line alongside more experiential attributes like a Porsche sculpture by German-Norwegian artist Yngve Holen, and a fragrance wafting throughout the space that invoked the smell of a new car.
Additionally, people had the opportunity to purchase affordable novelty items from Balenciaga like red mugs bearing Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo, black sleeping masks with branding in white block lettering, lighters, house slippers and a travel pillow — all of which retailed for under $90 USD which was in stark contrast to the $800 USD hoodies.
Whereas couture houses have long relied on exclusivity as one of its greatest weapons in the marketplace, Gvasalia opted for a more inclusive and Internet-friendly experience thanks to the affordable pieces.
This “goodie-bag” strategy was notably employed by Marc Jacobs way back in 2009 at the first Marc by Marc Jacobs store in London. The location earned comparisons to “pound shop’s” which permeate the city and hock adorable trinkets like hats, pens and mugs to impressionable tourists.
For Jacobs, not only were items like heart-shaped mirrors (£3) and metallic snakeskin-look key loops (£3) accessible to a wider group of people, but it also coincided with being in tune with real world happenings.
Whereas we applaud Gvasalia for being in touch with the Internet generation, Jacobs and his partner, Robert Duffy, also had a firm understanding of the global recession at the time which had left 23 million people out of work.
“I always felt strongly that I wanted to have items that are affordable, and mean that everyone can buy into the brand,” Duffy said. “I liked the idea of introducing a third line, but it wasn’t practical in business terms – so these pieces are a bit like a third line.”
In Jacobs’ case, the strategy paid dividends. The sub-brand accounted for 70 percent of the labels business. That isn’t to say that they made a fortune selling millions of pens and trinkets. However, they did strengthen their position by being self-aware enough to understand that people were struggling to feed their families, and touting luxury at the time would be viewed in poor taste.
It then begs the question for Balenciaga; why employ this strategy right now?
As heritage brands reconcile what their position is in the marketplace — as brick-and-mortar institutions become less and less a necessity — they are decidedly becoming more rooted in practices that relate to the “every man.”
Notably, Burberry began training its sales assistants to form more meaningful bonds with its customers through outreach. In turn, the brand said it saw a double-digit gain in spend from returning customers.
“Technology and the Internet are enlarging the range of opportunities for creating a dialogue with customers,” said Claudia d’Arpizio of Bain & Company, a Boston-based consulting firm – with offices in Milan – who specialize in luxury goods.
When referring to Vetements, Gvasalia remarked, “We do not want to be part of an idea of fashion that is about glamour and about something unattainable or super exclusive.”
However, upon his announcement as Creative Director at Balenciaga, he understood that the brand needed to speak to ideals relating to sophistication and elegance.
His usage of novelty items at the colette pop-up experience speaks to his desire to create product that appeal to those who will never be able to own a $1,000 USD cocoon coat.
“It’s about the tools I use rather than about the resulting creative expression,” he said.
In the case of this reappropriation, imitation not only serves as flattery, but also a sense of self-awareness that people in the Internet generation always want something right now.
- Main / Featured Image: Johnny Dufort