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Demna Gvasalia’s Exit From Vetements Marks the End of a Fashion Cycle

The once-white-hot label, where the Georgian designer made his name before becoming creative director of Balenciaga, was the poster child for the rise of luxury streetwear.
Demna Gvasalia | Willy Vanderperre for BoF
By
  • Laure Guilbault

PARIS, France —  Demna Gvasalia has stepped down from Vetements, the once-white-hot luxury streetwear label he co-founded in Paris in 2014. The Georgian designer will remain the creative director of Balenciaga. Vetements is expected to continue without Gvasalia.

Vetements first made waves in March 2015, when Gvasalia and his collective — including his brother, the label's CEO Guram Gvasalia — showed their collection at the Paris sex club Le Depot. With a raw, unpolished aesthetic, an internet-savvy sense of humour and a product-focused approach to collection-building, the brand quickly found traction with luxury consumers and industry insiders alike.

Gvasalia’s pieces often sold out and were worn by editors and influencers at the height of the street style movement, filling Instagram feeds with his meme-able designs, despite soaring price points: oversized hoodies were often over $700, while the label’s signature reconstructed denim was close to $1,000 a pair. The brand’s popular floral dresses and bomber jackets were significantly more.

Along with a high-priced, haute-streetwear aesthetic, Gvasalia also experimented with the label's operating model, showing on the pre-collection cycle, when buyers spend the majority of their budgets, to grow sales and streamline production.

Soon enough, Gvasalia was noticed by Kering Chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault, who hired him as creative director of Balenciaga after Alexander Wang's short-lived tenure at the house. There, Gvasalia created smash-hit hero products like the chunky Triple S sneaker, but also a logo sweatshirt mimicking the iconography of Bernie Sanders' 2016 US presidential campaign collateral and other internet-baiting novelty items such as Crocs-style platforms and extra-large, Ikea-like tote bags.

But Vetements’ influence on fashion — from its wide-shouldered suiting to its couch- floral house dresses — eventually began to wane. In March 2018, the streetwear publication Highsnobiety published a report citing an anonymous North American retailer who said that, “from a retail standpoint, Vetements is completely dead.”

Guram Gvasalia declared the piece “fake news” and underscored that the brand was outperforming targets with 50 percent growth year-on-year. Some retailers continued to report strong demand for Vetements products, but the hype that once surrounded the label seemed to have peaked. Partners from French department store Galeries Lafayette to the edgy Parisian boutique The Broken Arm stopped carrying the label.

This morning in a statement first reported by Women's Wear Daily, Demna Gvasalia suggested that Vetements would go on without him. “I feel that I have accomplished my mission of a conceptualist and design innovator at this exceptional brand,” he said. “Vetements has matured into a company that can evolve its creative heritage into a new chapter on its own.”

His brother, Guram, seconded the sentiment.

With the decline of Vetements, some industry observers have wondered about the future of Balenciaga. Is the storied house — which is set to surpass €1 billion in revenue this year, but carries a similar luxury streetwear aesthetic to Vetements — susceptible to the same swing of fashion’s pendulum?

Gvasalia has made liberal use of Balenciaga’s silhouettes, elevating his collections for the brand to much more than logo sweatshirts. But as high fashion moves into a new cycle, the designer may need to renew his focus on pushing Balenciaga forward.

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