What Does it Mean if Vetements is Losing Ground?
Last week, an article about fashion label Vetements, followed by a rebuttal from the brand, offered a momentarily clearer view into the customarily murky state of fashion today. So let's seize it and take a close look at this Vetements saga, and what it implies about fashion.
what is vetements?
Let's start high level. Vetements is an independent fashion label founded in 2009 by designer Demna Gvasalia. By early 2016, Vetements had burst, seemingly out of nowhere, onto the global fashion scene. The piece that largely did it: this DHL t-shirt, which in an instant of universal alignment, captured the exact fashion zeitgeist at a precise moment in time. All of a sudden, and I mean, blink and you missed it, Vetements was the darling of the fashion industry: a young, startup streetwear label with bottomless hype and demand to match. Championing anti-fashion as fashion, and tailored for the age of social media, Vetements has enjoyed a kind of industry domination, cultural impact, and relevance customarily reserved for legacy fashion houses like Gucci and Dior. That Gvasalia was named Balenciaga's Creative Director in late 2015 solidified the cachet of both the designer and his brand.
where is vetements today?
Fast forward to last week. Highsnobiety published an article by Alec Leach entitled, "2 Years After They Broke the Internet, It Looks Like Nobody is Buying Vetements." The article went on to cite evidence, from a number of unnamed sources, that Vetements is losing ground:
"Word on the industry’s rumor mill is that the brand is on its way out, with sales slumping and customers uninterested...The sources we spoke to all pointed to the same reasons for the brand’s slump in sales: recent collections offered no new ideas and largely consisted of reissued or reworked pieces from previous seasons, while prices were too high for the quality offered. Customers were instead moving on to Gvasalia’s Balenciaga collections, which offer the same look for better price and quality."
"'From a retail stand point, Vetements is completely dead,' said another [buyer], who works at an independent North American multi-brand retailer. 'Over the course of two seasons no one is even looking at it. Sales have dropped dramatically to the point where you are now seeing Vetements on sale on various outlets at 60-70% off.'"
This was eventful enough, and gave us plenty to consider, and then Vetements stepped in and really made things interesting by swiftly and strongly repudiating the piece. Demna Gvasalia posted this statement to Vetements' Instagram page:
Meanwhile, CEO Gurum Gvasalia sent this statement to WWD:
“It is sad to see the state of journalism today. In the era of click-baits, using the name of our company in the article is a click-bait itself, and even more so when it’s mentioned in a negative headline. To the disappointment of all the haters, we would like to declare that Vetements is in the strongest creative and financial state it has ever been. We are definitely not going out of business and the speculations about our sales figures are not only false and defamatory in its nature, but also simply ridiculous. Sadly some journalists today are more concerned with writing fake news and reposting shocking headlines rather than checking facts to show the full picture. It is especially upsetting to see some fashion writers, fueled by their personal agendas, attacking young independent brands while sucking up to big conglomerates for their advertisement budgets. Serious news outlets seem to be turning into tabloids and gossip blogs that impose somebody’s opinion and made-up stories as true facts.”
Faced with this rebuttal from Vetements, Highsnobiety issued a statement of their own in response:
"Vetements isn’t immune to the struggles faced by modern independent labels, but what we’re analyzing is their ability to sustain marketing hype and relevance to our young, trend-conscious audience as it grows. While it’s impossible to quantify street cred, we have noticed a sharp decline in Vetements in our global street style coverage, and the buyers we spoke to, many of whom work at smaller, independent retailers, often rely on a brand’s strength to help curate their offer, and cater especially to the type of discerning consumer we speak to. The moment a brand like Vetements ends up in larger, more mainstream retailers, it’s a hit to their perceived authenticity. While Vetements is far from dead, to many in the industry — especially the selective market we cater to — it is ‘over.'”
Quite the sartorial saga, no?
so, what does this all mean?
Now that we're caught up, let's move to the interesting part: namely, why does this story matter and what does it say about the state of fashion today?
I have to start by saying this: Vetements has confounded me from the start. It's a brand I partly don't get, partly admire, and partly see as a manifestation of everything that’s wrong with fashion today, all at the same time. If that's not confusing enough, I have spent the last five or so years consciously distancing myself from the zeitgeist in fashion so that I could learn to define fashion for myself, separated from all the forces that try to define it for us. That I'm deliberately not plugged in makes it even harder for me to understand precisely what it is that makes Vetements so incredibly relevant to fashion culture. But that in itself is so telling, right? Vetements is only relevant if you're tuned in to the hype.
And I think that's what this is all about: hype and the role hype plays in fashion today.
In the last few months, the passing of Azzedine Alaïa and Hubert de Givenchy forced me to think critically about how and why fashion has changed in the past few decades. Fashion has always been about using a piece of clothing to capture and translate into physical form something that exists in the air—a feeling, an idea, the way a society is changing, the things we want, and the ideas we value. But fashion, at least historically, always came back to the clothing: how clothes were made, their construction, the fabric, the fit, the spark of underlying creativity, the artistry and the craft involved.
Kanye West and Chiara Ferrangi wearing Vetements hoodies. Images via Getty.
That is not so today. Today, fashion is about hype. And hype doesn't necessarily equate to how good the clothes are. Sometimes it does, but often it doesn't. Divorced from the merits of a physical garment, hype becomes a different beast altogether—one that derives from public perception and influence and a hard-to-pin-down cool factor and cultural forces and people's attention span, and so on and so forth. In contemporary fashion culture, hype has to do with so much, really, except, ironically, the clothes.
The article in Highsnobiety was so dangerous to Vetements because Vetements is a label built on perception; hype is their brand. Take away the sense that other people think Vetements is hot, and it isn't hot anymore. And just like that, Vetements is over. Precarious, no? Hence the forcefulness of the brand's response. Again, it's ironic. The very zeitgeist that made Vetements what it is could make it irrelevant in the same blink of an eye.
All of this leaves me questioning: who benefits from a fashion industry built on hype? I don't think we benefit, as people who buy clothes, because of the disconnect between hype and value. If the most buzzed-about brands aren't necessarily the ones making the best clothes, how can we learn to disentangle signal from noise? People who make clothes don't benefit either, in the long term at least, because no matter the case hype is bound to come and go. And when it goes, all brands are left with in the end is a skewed sense of what customers value. Yes, the industry as a whole sells more clothes. But when fashion yields to hype, does it serve its purpose? Does it serve to inspire us? Does it serve us? Does it enhance our lives in the way fashion is meant to? I think it doesn't, which is ultimately why a fashion industry that deals in hype is a disservice to us all. Instead, it is the fashion that must come first. The hype can follow, but it doesn't have to. Good clothes are good enough.