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Where the runway meets the street

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date the Vetements craze started, but October 7, 2015 was the day the world stood up and really took notice. Just six days after Vetements’ SS16 show, where Gosha Rubchinskiy walked in that DHL T-shirt, Demna Gvasalia was announced as the new Creative Director of Balenciaga. Gvasalia was a relative unknown outside of the Paris scene, and Vetements itself was originally styled as an anonymous collective, although Demna would soon emerge as the brand’s figurehead.

It wasn’t long before the world went Vetements mad. The brand’s pieces sold out whenever they dropped, and celebrities couldn’t get enough of it either (I guess having Kanye West and Travis Scott sit at your show does wonders). Soon even Celine Dion was wearing Vetements, and entrepreneurial Grailed employee Davil Tran had started his own parody brand, Vetememes.

For the fashion industry, the brand’s irony, massive silhouettes and edgy styling were a breath of fresh air, but for the rest of the world, Vetements will be forever the brand that broke the internet when its $200 DHL T-shirt dropped in 2016. Any newspaper style writer worth their salt wrote a think piece on the tee when it dropped. “Scam or subversion?,” mused The Guardian. “Delivery is *so* in,” frothed Marie Claire. Would YOU pay £185 for a DHL T-shirt?,” demanded The Daily Mail.

However, what comes up must come down and recent seasons have been pretty quiet for Vetements. The brand moved its HQ to Zurich and even pulled out of the schedule for one season, forgoing a SS18 runway show in favor of a low-key presentation inside a parking lot in Paris. Gvasalia continues to wow the world with his work at Balenciaga, but recent collections for his own label have tread familiar territory, often reworking pieces from previous seasons (the DHL tee was turned into a full collection for SS18, and bizarrely, the haulage company even put on its own fashion show at an airport in Germany).

Word on the industry’s rumor mill is that the brand is on its way out, with sales slumping and customers uninterested.

Highsnobiety spoke to a variety of sources in the American, European and Asian markets—buyers from retailers stocking the brand, a former Vetements employee and a sales associate from a luxury department store that carries the label—to find out more. All of the sources we spoke to asked to remain anonymous.

“We started stocking the brand from their early days and the sell-through rate has been 100% throughout the last few seasons,” said one buyer from an Asian retailer. “If you compare the amount we’ve spent on the brand for SS18 and the recent FW18 season, we’ve decreased the order by around 70%.”

Eva Al Desnudo / Highsnobiety

“From a retail stand point, Vetements is completely dead,” said another, who works at an independent North American multi-brand retailer. “Over the course of two seasons no one is even looking at it. Sales have dropped dramatically to the point where you are now seeing Vetements on sale on various outlets at 60-70% off.”

“We’re still going to be carrying the brand but it doesn’t sell through as quickly as it used to,” added another source from a prominent e-commerce retailer.

The sources we spoke to all pointed to the same reasons for the brand’s slump in sales: recent collections offered no new ideas and largely consisted of reissued or reworked pieces from previous seasons, while prices were too high for the quality offered. Customers were instead moving on to Gvasalia’s Balenciaga collections, which offer the same look for better price and quality.

Vetements’ insane prices kept the brand in the headlines — Gvasalia even admitted himself that he wouldn’t pay them — and while $924 Snoop Dogg tees and $85 socks kept people talking, it seems that customers have had enough.

Vetements' $924 Snoop Dogg tee.
Yang Jun Hyeong / Highsnobiety

“Everyone is waving it goodbye already,” said a former shop manager at a luxury retailer that still carries the brand. “The prices get to the point where you can’t justify it any more and without that hype from the beginning to get people excited, they’re just like, ‘you’re having a laugh.’”

A former Vetements employee added that internal changes to the brand—especially its move to Zurich—led to a decline in originality. “The collection wasn’t very creative, it was a lot of carry-overs and the buyers knew that,” they commented. “The core team has completely left. Everybody who was there from the beginning has left apart from two people.”

“We’ve also heard from Vetements’ own internal team that the best designs were sent to Balenciaga,” continues the Asian retail buyer. “It seems like the second-grade designs are left behind at Vetements.”

The brand’s CEO, Guram Gvasalia (brother of Demna) often told the press that a key ingredient of Vetements’ success was its limited production runs. Mimicking the streetwear industry’s business model, Gvasalia insisted that keeping supply deliberately lower than demand was better for the brand in the long run, and that when brands ended up heavily discounted at the end of the season it was because they were producing more than they could sell.

However, as Quartz fashion reporter Marc Bain points out, Vetements has now ended up in that exact position, with many of last season’s pieces languishing on sale with heavy discounts. In Vetements’ case, rather than supply being too high, it might be that the demand has plummeted because consumers simply aren’t willing to pay the brand’s prices anymore.

The brand’s collaboration with Alpha Industries, an MA-1 bomber which appears identical to the $150 original bar a logo on the front and back, is currently retailing for $1,845. Vetements’ reworked Levi’s 501s are $1,360, and its Tommy Hilfiger hoodies are $895. All of them are still available in a full size run.

“At the end of the day, consumers aren’t stupid,” says the Asian retail buyer.

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Words by Alec Leach
Digital Fashion Editor

Alec Leach grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives in Berlin, where he leads Highsnobiety's digital fashion content.

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