When in 2014 Vetements burst onto the scene with their updated take on Margiela, it billed itself as a collective in a nod to the master of self-effacement. Soon enough though, the Gvasalia brothers decided that it was their show after all – Demna became its creative figurehead and Guram its business one. Just a year later, the hype surrounding the brand landed Demna a creative director position at Balenciaga, where he quickly proceeded to ruin its reputation as a storied couture house by pumping out logoed hoodies, logoed denim jackets, logoed sweaters, logoed sneakers, and even logoed tailoring. Soon enough, what with Demna getting all the spotlight, the two brothers fell out. In 2019 Demna left Vetements, and in 2021 he dropped his last name, without offering a compelling reason for doing so. (Could it be that the brothers’ hatred for each other ran so deep that it extended to Demna’s desire to drop his family name?) He also moved from Zurich to Geneva.
But Vetements was too commercially successful of a project for Guram to drop, and so the businessman became the creative director.
Meanwhile, Demna was on a roll at Balenciaga with viral presentations and celebrity stunts, providing fake-edgy and faux-intellectual provocations that the fashion media devoured. Until, unsurprisingly, this fake edge came to bite him late last year with the child porn debacle that sank Balenciaga’s American sales. After the panic settled, Demna came out with a PR job of a 25-page profile in the New Yorker, and proclamations about being done with celebrity circus and insinuations that he needed to do all these unsavory things because of “the fashion system.” The fashion system gladly let this bullshit slide yet again, but this situation is worth unpacking.
A brand’s creative director is its figurehead. Therefore, whether he likes it or not, the successes and the failures of the house rest on him, just like they do on any figurehead. Even if in his head Demna is genuine about never having wanted to use Kanye West and Kim Kardashian to make Balenciaga into a viral phenomenon, or pump out logoed lowest-common-denominator trash at the speed of light; even if he did these things because of the pressure to produce numbers for Kering, he still did them and that’s on him. No one held a gun to his head and asked him to sell out.
He may also be genuinely feeling that now is the time to ditch the circus and concentrate on design. But when he says these things, he says them as a Kering employee, and his statements must have passed through rigorous PR control and been approved as strategy by Kering’s bosses. Genuine or not, the likely scenario is that this is just another strategic pivot for a brand that recognizes that the luxury fashion customer is ready to move away from logoed hoodies and elevated streetwear.
The point is this – Demna remains the figurehead of a major corporate brand, and if we allow him to say that everything negative that’s been produced under it is a product of the corporatized fashion system, and everything positive is how he actually feels, we are not only letting him off the hook, but we are willingly destroying the parameters by which the output of a creative figurehead is judged. And, if Demna is so sick of the fashion system, he can quit Balenciaga and launch his own brand – given his stature, investors will be lining up around the block.
That Demna’s pronouncements have become the height of cognitive dissonance became apparent last week when he told Tim Blanks, the editor-at-large at the Business of Fashion, that “fashion itself was in flames, consumed by fakery, marketing, sales, everything that took it away from what mattered: making real clothes, and remembering who they were being made for.” That’s rather rich from the man who has been on top of the fashion system dunghill for eight years. Is that what he meant when the next day Balenciaga released yet another collab chock full of logoed hoodies?
I also would like to know who that Balenciaga haute couture collection was made for? A couple of my friends came to Demna’s defense saying that his concept of haute-couture-for-everyday-
Not to be outdone by his brother, the day of the Balenciaga couture show Guram announced that Vetements will be outfitting Madonna for her next tour. The next day the New York Times published an interview with Guram that was so breathtakingly brazen that one must wonder whether he was really unguarded or whether what he said was attention-seeking as a marketing ploy. A couple of people I know who’ve met Guram told me that he is a cold-blooded raider (one calls him a Machiavelli.). So, probably this was an attempt for the article to go viral as a strategy to bring more attention to himself and Vetements. This makes sense. Vetements is no Balenciaga, despite how much Guram wants it to be. According to the NYT article, the brand has 400 stockists, a number that feels inflated.
Regardless of the intent, in the article Guram said some pretty outrageous things. First, about Demna, “I think my brother is very talented, but I have a completely different approach to things. He had his good run of 10 years, and I think his era is slowly going to its finish line. Now it is my time.” And about himself, “I feel for me, there is still something coming very big. I would not take a job today somewhere else. But one day if Chanel comes? I would not say no.” Vanessa Friedman, who wrote the article, also pointed out that Guram has been on the Parisian circuit since January. I’ve also spotted him at a couple of shows, not the least because his new costume of oversized black denim and leather jars so much with his previous preference for tailored suits. But, of course a newly-minted creative must dress the part.
This is just the latest chapter in the Gvasalia circus, which, sadly, the fashion commentariat cannot get enough of. But perhaps it has held our attention for too long. It is unfortunate that the narcissist class – lead by the likes of Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and Kanye West – has learned that the press will always take their bait, because the public loves them, or at least find them entertaining, and that they bring in the clicks that advertisers demand. That fashion would be better off without such people seems beside the point.