I know I’ve written about Vetements a couple of times on this blog now and generally the posts are a mix of confusion and dislike. However, I went to see Guram Gvasalia talk at the Vogue Festival this past weekend and have genuinely received clarity. I entered the talk space not knowing what to expect. I anticipated that it would be a good talk because it was being led by Suzy Menkes, an always witty fashion critic, but I didn’t know if I’d leave feeling any differently about Vetements.
I think my biggest problem with the brand has always been that I didn’t understand it. I thought the clothes were ugly. I couldn’t understand the prices. I just didn’t get the hype. Was it all a crazy gimmick? Was Kanye West in on the joke? Where did the whole DHL shit-storm originate from? However, Guram went into detail about the practices of the business and answered every single question intelligently and respectfully, even when confronted with one comment, under the guise of a question, from the audience that, in a nutshell, told him that the clothes were crap.
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like the majority of the clothes. It is very unlikely that you’ll see me in a Vetements hoodie (and not just because they’re impossible to purchase nowadays). I have to admit, I did see some Vetements in the flesh for the first time this week in Selfridges. Although the selection was limited (probably a sign of the popularity), I really liked the motorcycle jacket from the runway. It was actually incredible in the flesh, but I’m not sure how it would actually look if you wore it in real day-to-day life. I fear that I would look like a street style peacock that everyone hates. I considered trying it on but then I got scared that it would be way too obvious that I had no intention of buying it.
Regardless of the aesthetics of the brand, the entire set up is very clever. Orders are fulfilled in a way which means Vetements will never go on sale. They are of the mentality that it is better to have not enough than too much. Simple supply and demand. If people cannot get it, they want it more. People will order on pre-sales, leading to near sell out collections before they even hit the sales floor. This tactic obviously works as they sell to over 200 retailers now. The recent announcement that they would be showing at couture week also caused quite a fuss. The reason behind this move actually made sense once it was explained. For example, instead of showing in March and delivering to stores in roughly August/September then running into sales season in November (therefore only 2 months full price on the floor), they will show in January to deliver in May and therefore be full price until the next collection is delivered, thus eliminating the need for pre-collections and going off the regular fashion timetable. Basically it gives the opportunity for 6 months full price sales before the next collection is delivered to stores. I liked this idea a lot actually and learning the lead times helped.
Furthermore, everything to do with the business is done in house. They even started making their jeans in Paris instead of the Italian factories where most are made. They control the design, the distribution, and the quantities produced. Guram did an incredible breakdown of the price of the jeans (over £1000) and how they get to that retail price. It all boils down to mark ups from the retailers. I found the talk extremely educational and I felt that I learned an awful lot in the short space of time.
The paring of Demna, the creative, and Guram, the business brains, leads to a fantastic formula. You cannot be a commercially successful designer without a good business sense or a partner who can help you. I think Vetements demonstrates the need for both sides to be in equilibrium. Overall, I left with the impression that this brand, which I thought would be a fad, may actually have staying power if they play their cards right. Everything they have done so far has worked. And yes, the designs are controversial just because sometimes they are ugly as hell but give credit where credit is due. I finally admit defeat. I have succumbed to the hype. Damn you Guram.
PS – the DHL t shirt really was one long, overblown inside joke. In fact, the majority that you see are now copies.
PPS – Guram said, in no certain terms, that people have been wearing Vetements that they weren’t exactly designing for, people who did not fit the aesthetic. To me, this was in reference to Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. However, he seemed way too polite to name names.