Unpacking Fashion's Obsession with Demna Gvasalia

Unpacking Fashion's Obsession with Demna Gvasalia

The designer behind Vetements and now Balenciaga has built a hype rivaling that of Supreme, and not by accident.

The designer behind Vetements and now Balenciaga has built a hype rivaling that of Supreme, and not by accident.

Text: Maxwell N. Burnstein

“I don't see it as a dreamy world of fantasy, but as a business and concept. It's pragmatism," said Demna Gvasalia, recounting the cultural sensibility that drove a collective into the industries reigning power-house Vetements. The hype of the French street-wear meme-bait has transcended Balenciaga, sending appropriations of car mats, Ikea shopping bags or 10-inch platform Crocs down the runway. The distinction between Gvasalia’s acts seem irreverent when accounting for his ability to gain attention, driving a cult following that could go to war with Supreme, and win.

VMAN unpacks five pieces that have jarred critics and collectors alike, placing Gvasalia as the latest obsession of the fashion world.

DHL SHIRT

After a series of DHL packages didn’t arrive at then-emerging Vetements, Gvasalia acquired the copyright of the global distributors logo. “DHL seemed to be more a part of my life than anything else” said Gvasalia, sending designer Gosha Rubchinskiy down Vetements Spring 2016 runway in what looked like the carriers uniform. The digital arena adopted the working class symbolism of the attention-grabbing bright yellow t-shirt: it’s inaccessibility and stark price of $330 marked a change in designing for social media. Gvasalia reimaged the DHL T-Shirt two years after its inception in the Spring 2018 “no show” lookbook, playing to his strength as a product designer by adding a coat, hat and accessories to revive the frenzy of the express mail server.

TITANIC SWEATER

Celine Dion’s recent emergence as a style icon was swift and calculated, tracing back to her now-iconic Vetements moment at the Paris Haute Couture shows in 2016.

Stepping out as if cast by Gvasalia, donning a pullover sweater adorned with a movie still of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet from Titanic, Dion owned the brand's inherent irony. Stylist Law Roach sourced the sold-out piece from Gvasalia’s archives, referencing Dion’s hit single "My Heart Will Go On.” Paired with skinny jeans and sandals, it was an elevated take on pedestrian style that drove one of most Instagramable moments of the year and elevated Dion’s street status. A hallmark of the brand, the Cameron James Titanic sweater was re-interpreted for AW17 as a zip-through, cut with a heavy metal spoof.

IKEA SHOPPING BAG

Inverting the design process, Balenciaga seemingly starts with the meme and ends with the product at the helm of Gvasalia. Appearing at a runway 2017 show with a sample from in-production IKEA collaboration, a $2,145 blue Arena Balenciaga bag inspired by the chain’s plastic Frakta tote became click-bait when a picture of the accessory went viral. Gvasalia’s take on the Frakata is a cultural reference that is collectively experienced, an inside joke that he openly mocks: “It’s ugly, that’s why we like it.” Fan-made Frakta’s went almost as viral as the actual bag, while IKEA cashed in on the unrealized collaboration with their own ad campaign, joining the joke. The Kering-appointed designer draws from his upbringing in the former USSR, where a uniformity in style helped him to trivialize the classical model of the old house he now runs.

BERNIE SANDERS

Gvasalia’s ability to self-actualize is most evident in his Bernie Sanders political satire at Balenciaga Fall 2017 menswear show. Driven by corporate capitalism, Balenciaga opted to appropriate Bernie Sanders presidential type-face. The post-Soviet silhouettes felt uneasy: oversized hoodies, ill fitted windbreaks, and puffer blankets adorned with Balenciaga 2017 looked like Sanders mass ordered team uniforms from China. Balenciaga’s women’s show revived the Sanders inspired typeface on the side of wrapped pumps, always replaying his motifs.

CROC PLATFORMS

“I wanted more Demna in this,” he declared, realized on the runway of Paris Fashion Week in the form of a Croc four-inches off the ground. Hot pink and customized by Croc with branded accessories, Gvasalia’s bubble-up approach to fashion no longer draws homage to the formidable Cristobal Balenciaga: “this is my direction,” he stated. With Balenciaga now feeling more like a Jeff Koons exhibition than a fashion house, the always meta designs of Demna reverberating across fashion are starting to feel repetitive as the anticipation of shock is no longer shocking.

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