No brand divides opinion quite like Vetements. In just a few short seasons, the Parisian collective has become one of the fashion industry's most talked-about names, drawing countless detractors and nay-sayers even though its clothing sells out in a heartbeat.
Vetements' low-brow aesthetic and extravagant price point makes it an easy target for skeptics. Even people without the slightest interest in fashion have thrown themselves into the Vetements debate, probably because the brand is a goldmine for attention-grabbing headlines — The Guardian, for example, tackled Vetements mania with the title How a DHL T-shirt Became This Year's Must-Have.
I wouldn't consider myself a diehard Vetements fan — I don't own any of the brand's pieces, and probably never will — but in my opinion, the hype is justified (to an extent). To many, particularly those working in the industry, Vetements is a breath of fresh air — it puts clothing first and foremost, leaving behind high fashion's weighty concepts and themes (the brand's name is simply French for "clothing").
I thought it about time someone had a level-headed discussion on Vetements, one that looks at both sides of the coin in an attempt to come to some sort of balanced view of the brand — something more than just hype, clickbait and trolling.
Enter Aleks Eror, Highsnobiety's resident fashion skeptic, and a man who spent nearly three months trying to find a plain black sweater that he didn't hate. Aleks has made it clear just how unimpressed he is with the latest craze to hit the fashion world, and he sits two seats away from me, so he's pretty much the perfect partner for a frank, honest debate on Vetements.
Alec: So, tell me what you don’t *get* about Vetements.
Aleks: Well first off, why are people going so mad about it? Because from where I’m sitting, they’re charging Givenchy prices for ill-fitting Slipknot concert merchandise. No one ever thought mall goth was a cool look a year ago. Why now?
Alec: The nu-metal looks you’re referring to are only really in Vetements' FW16 collection, and they're probably just Demna and co. revisiting their youths, which is something pretty much every designer in the history of fashion has done at some point. When I was a teenager I listened to nu-metal, painted my nails black and wore wallet chains – Demna and his mates are probably former goths, too.
To answer your first question, basically Vetements has perfected the formula for the sort of thing that fashionistas want from their clothing these days. It's equal parts streetwear, which is very now, ironic logo-mania, which shows you’re cool but don’t take yourself too seriously (which is probably even cooler, I suppose), and really weird, exaggerated cuts, which shows you’re into *proper* fashion.
Aleks: But you see, this is also why the brand hasn’t endeared itself to me. You say that the ironic logo-obsession is a sign that “you don’t take yourself too seriously,” and the brand tries to create this air of effortless cool about it when it’s anything but.
The DHL T-shirts look like something your dad was given in some PR goodie bag and now only wears around the house. It’s supposed to look so incredibly blasé, so effortlessly cool, when in fact it’s the exact opposite. They haven’t picked a brand at random, they’ve thought through to find something that inspires feelings of ironic indifference. Serious, co-ordinated thought has gone into this. This shows that they very much do care about being cool, and take fashion very seriously.
Alec: Well, every brand puts serious, co-ordinated thought into its image – Supreme, Palace and Gosha Rubchinskiy are putting just as much effort into maintaining their cool-guy personas as the Vetements guys are. There’s nothing new or unusual about that. The DHL tee, like the Security and Polizei stuff, is just Vetements celebrating the mundane, which has been en vogue for a while now — it’s been over two years since New York Magazine kick-started the whole Normcore craze — and, in my opinion, it's a sign that people don't really care about grand, avant-garde concepts in fashion anymore. What else is bothering you?
Aleks: It’s ugly clothing. And I completely understand that taste is subjective and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are certain objective underpinnings that can’t be denied. You’ve said that weird, exaggerated cuts show that someone is “into *proper* fashion” but human beings are instinctively attracted to symmetry and proportion. Classical architecture is built upon the same geometric principles that make it instinctively appealing.
Vetements opts for forced ugliness simply to set itself apart from the crowd. It relies on repulsing mainstream tastes to create a feeling of exclusivity, an illusion that ordinary people “don’t get it.” And it’s not that people don’t get it, it’s just ugly clothing. It’s not avant-garde, because it’s reactionary and contrarian and ultimately defined by the mainstream. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that the brand's clothing looks good to you?
Alec: Well of course it doesn’t conform to conventional ideals of what clothing should look like but that’s not what fashion is about. Tons of designers have been inspired by ugliness, it’s nothing unique to Vetements – rejecting traditional standards of beauty has always been part of the conversation fashion has with pop culture. There’s tons of amazing musicians who deliberately defy traditional notions of harmony, time signatures and the like – other things that human beings are instinctively attracted to. Ever listened to the Dillinger Escape Plan?
There are tons of Vetements pieces that look good in my eyes. Their jeans are amazing – they’re two separate pairs which have been offset at the hem, and the back pockets looks like they’re sliding away. There’s some insanely intricate tailoring going on that’s really hard to not be impressed by – stuff like two shirts that have been stitched together back-to-back, or hoodies with double collars so they can be worn back-to-front.
Aleks: The jeans are interesting, I’ll give them that. And I’m not saying that the hoodies aren’t: I can appreciate them as an object, but it’s just such a cheap-and-easy grab for attention with grotesquely over-the-top clothing that someone is going to look completely ridiculous in. It's clothes that would attract snickers anywhere outside of Fashion Week.
I suppose that’s my beef with Vetements: all novelty, no substance, and totally undeserving of the praise that they’re enjoying. Not that Demna and co. are to blame; it’s the wider fashion world in general. I realize that I sound about 95-years-old saying this, but they embody so much of what’s wrong with fashion. Do you think that they’re a brand that’ll last, or is it all hype?
Alec: The hype will definitely not last — the brand's so overexposed already and it's only on its third season! It's mad. That doesn't mean Vetements is dead, though. A good comparison is Hood By Air — in 2013 it was all the rage, and completely inescapable on the street style circuit. Of course most people quickly moved on after the hype died down, but these days Hood By Air has got a really cult, diehard following, and still produces some really dope work — and challenges a lot of the fashion industry's preconceptions about gender and sexuality.
It's funny that you say "what's wrong with fashion," because to a lot of people Vetements is really challenging the industry's problems. All the big luxury houses are trying to reinvent themselves each season and trying to hit all the right trends at the same time, whereas Vetements is really just approaching things from a product designer's perspective, making clothes instead of grand theatrical concepts. A lot of people are connecting with that. They're doing streetwear, essentially, but streetwear that's elevated for the high-fashion crowd. At the end of the day, that's the sort of stuff that people are going to really want to wear rather than some weird, avant-garde concept piece.
What do you specifically mean by "what's wrong with fashion"?
Aleks: You know, I can totally get behind what Vetements are trying to do to the fashion industry. Fashion design is creative work, yet brands are driven by business people, people who try to apply models taken from commerce and manufacturing and apply them to what is, in essence, artistic work.
On that front Demna and co. are absolutely in the right, but when I say "what's wrong with fashion", I mean this transient faddishness, this fixation on disposable novelty. Is Vetements game-changing or just the new flavor of the month? I personally lean towards the latter. They're the fashion equivalent of that cheap endorphin rush you get from a 'like' on Instagram or a retweet: one that never lasts, like a short buzz from processed sugar. Nothing about the brand suggests that they're going to be of any relevance within a few years, or its impact still felt. That's what makes the hype and the think pieces so nauseating. Let's just see it for what it is: a brand doing something a bit new, a bit unexpected. They'll have their moment and we'll move onto the next thing when our attention spans wander away elsewhere. There's no great science, magic, or philosophy to it.
Of course, no one can see the future, and I could be completely and utterly wrong. And it's not really the brand's fault that people have bestowed them with Messiah status, but they're profiting handsomely from it and haven't done anything to pour cold water on it. Vetements aren't what is fundamentally wrong with fashion, they're a symptom of it – this relentless demand for more and new and this desperate need to salivate all over it. Which in many ways is a byproduct of neoliberalism, and something they're trying to scale back, in a round-about way. I just hope they succeed.
It's hard to argue with that, really. Fashion is driven by trends and hype — particularly now that social media speeds everything up to breakneck speed — and Aleks is right that the industry will quickly move onto the next thing once Vetements has had "its moment."
Designers from Raf Simons to Alessandro Michele, as well as Vetements' own Demna Gvasalia, all believe that fashion really needs to slow down, and the insane hype surrounding the brand (which, don't forget, is still only in its third season) is a good example of why that is.
That doesn't mean the brand's clothing isn't clever, striking or refreshing, and it doesn't mean Vetements is simply a meaningless novelty, either. Hopefully, the brand can capitalize on the hype to make a valid point about the industry, while continuing to develop its unique aesthetic.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole. For more Vetements content, see five ways the brand is inspired by Maison Margiela