To perceive what makes Demna Gvasalia the most well liked designer in Paris proper now, you first must overlook every little thing you suppose about Paris. Forget Catherine Deneuve, overlook Jane Birkin, overlook Françoise Hardy. Forget trenchcoats, silk blouses, ballet pumps and straw baskets. Forget Amélie in Montmartre and Carrie Bradshaw in Ladurée.
The Paris of Gvasalia, designer of Vetements and Balenciaga, shouldn’t be that Paris. Instead, it’s the Paris you would possibly recognise should you have been gripped by the newest collection of gritty French police drama Spiral. It is the town we glimpse by the eyes of Louise, the nanny in Leïla Slimani’s novel Lullaby, when she makes the after-work journey from her employers’ stylish 10th arrondissement residence to her down-at-heel neighbourhood. It is a metropolis of telephone retailers and quick meals, a metropolis the place glamour means tight denims and pretend purses, a metropolis the place background noise is a distinct language on each avenue nook, not a harmonious Édith Piaf soundtrack.
A fortnight in the past, Gvasalia showed his new Vetements collection there throughout males’s vogue week, on a makeshift catwalk marked out on the threadbare carpet of Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market, fashions weaving between stalls loaded with gold ornaments, piles of rugs, haphazard decorative mirrors. As a venue, it was about as removed from the tropes of vogue week – lavish lodge ballrooms, expensively impartial all-white marquees – as it’s doable to get. The fashions wore headscarves and raincoats, slogan T-shirts and zip-up fleeces.
“I don’t think elegance is relevant,” says Gvasalia, cheerfully. It is the week after the present and he’s holed up in his Paris studio, attempting to fend off a chilly within the transient lull earlier than buildup to his Balenciaga present on 4 March begins in earnest. “Vetements is about the street, and on the street I don’t think elegance is what people are aiming for.” At most vogue reveals, appears to be like are saved fastidiously below plastic till the 11th hour, with backstage dressers serving to the fashions into them on the final second, to keep away from creases or marks. At this present, which Gvasalia styled himself, the fashions have been dressed early after which sat round chatting till the present. As a outcome, the garments regarded somewhat lived in. “We do things differently here, I suppose. But, at the same time, it’s the same. Because whether it’s a Vetements hoodie or a couture dress, it’s still about the person putting it on and thinking: ‘I am happy with this, I am happy with how I look.’”
For a person who as soon as informed Vogue that “being down to earth is the new black”, Gvasalia’s rise by the ranks is the stuff of vogue fairytales. He burst on to the scene in 2014 with Vetements, his cult design collective, and the next yr was a riot of hot-ticket vogue reveals in gaudy Chinese eating places, yellow DHL T-shirts on the catwalk and patchwork Frankenjeans, which for a time have been even more durable to pay money for than Birkin luggage. Vetements grew to become probably the most influential label in fashionable vogue. (The developments for trophy hoodies and the vogue for lengthy, free floral clothes, fairly than sundress-sized ones, began right here.)
The subsequent yr, Gvasalia was named artistic director of the eminent home of Balenciaga and his world grew to become as glamorous because it was hip. (Put it like this: Kanye West was already turning as much as Gvasalia’s reveals; as soon as he acquired the Balenciaga gig, Kim Kardashian began exhibiting up, too.)
“What is different about my point of view is pragmatism,” says Gvasalia. “The fashion world isn’t the real world and my aesthetic is a kind of hyperrealism. I am not interested in trying to live in some kind of dream. I’d be bored to death.” Last yr, he moved the Vetements headquarters from Paris to Zurich, the place he and his youthful brother and chief collaborator Gurum Gvasalia, CEO of the label, stay. He is phlegmatically unromantic about his departure from vogue’s most storied metropolis. “I do most of my research on my screen, so I can be anywhere; what does it matter?”
Gvasalia was born in 1981 in Sukhumi, Georgia. The strict Soviet aesthetic of his childhood was obliterated in 1989, with the autumn of the iron curtain: all of a sudden, there was pop music, Coca-Cola, Vogue journal, a collage of clashing visuals. The most up-to-date Vetements present was “closer than ever to my eastern European background”, Gvasalia says. “It was 100% me, 100% my aesthetic.” The forged included a 16-year-old woman “from the area of Georgia I grew up in – it was a coincidence, we cast her from Instagram, but when I put her in a red jacket and flowery dress, with a headscarf and boots, she looked just like one of the women from the area I grew up”. When Gvasalia was 10, civil warfare broke out and the brothers fled with their mom and grandmother by the Caucasus mountains. Forced by the terrain to desert their automotive, they continued on foot, promoting a Kalashnikov to purchase a horse for his or her grandmother, and settled in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. It is a startlingly uncommon background for a fashion-week darling and 1 which Gvasalia relates with matter-of-fact pithiness.
“Taking risks is something I got used to as a kid and that is in the DNA of Vetements,” he says. “In fashion now, you need to take risks to survive.” Vetements has proven womenswear throughout the menswear reveals, hoodies throughout high fashion week, adapting and evolving because the Gvasalia brothers see match. (“We started the brand from scratch and I cannot adapt a four-year-old brand to industry rules that are a century old.”) Early on, consumers from Barneys in New York who visited the Vetements showroom inquired concerning the model’s minimal order, a rule put in place by most homes to guard their backside line by economies of scale. They have been informed that there was no minimal order, solely a most 1; Vetements technique was to make sure that demand would outstrip provide and so construct buzz. Eyebrows have been raised throughout Paris, however the tactic labored.
Right now, Gvasalia has an obsession with honesty. “Look what’s going on in Hollywood,” he says. “Look what’s going on everywhere around us. We need to be transparent.” The current Vetements present addressed in trademark blunt vogue the problem of Gvasalia’s artistic debt to the legacy of Martin Margiela, for whose label he labored for a number of years. “Researching how Margiela influenced me as a designer meant touching on some delicate questions about influence and appropriation. It seemed important to me to ask those questions,” he says. The assortment included a model of Margiela’s well-known cleft-toed Tabi boot – itself a model of a 15th-century sock tailored for the Japanese market, the place individuals wished to put on them with thonged sandals. “I put the Tabi in because I wanted to directly address the issue of appropriation. What is a source, what is an influence, what is a copy? The answers are difficult to define.”
In step with the zeitgeist, Gvasalia is as eager on expertise as he’s on authenticity. His subsequent venture, for Balenciaga, is an experiment in “a new, technological kind of savoir-faire”. Digital fittings are being trialled on the pc display, with a view to “installing a part of the Balenciaga atelier that is purely digital”. (Balenciaga, which is owned by Kering, has a price range that provides Gvasalia scope for experimentation past what is feasible at Vetements.) I ask him how he thinks this new expertise will change vogue and he laughs. “I don’t know yet. I can’t see the future. But I think pretty much everything is going to change.”