Vetements Brings Its Brand of Disruption to Couture


“The embrace of the industry is quite incredible, for where we’ve come from and how long we exist,” Mr. Gvasalia said. The line is carried in more than 200 stores worldwide, and Guram Gvasalia, 30, Demna’s brother and Vetements’s chief executive, cites sales in the eight figures.

Indeed, after the Gvasalias decided to move their fashion show from October to July to give the collection more time on the sales floor, the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode offered them a slot on the couture calendar.

Vetements’ 17 New Friends

These companies are collaborating with Vetements on items for its spring 2017 collection.

“We have a lot of demand for couture, a lot,” said Ralph Toledano, the body’s president. “We could not take everybody. But the Vetements approach was interesting. You have to promote new ideas, to help new designers with new houses.”

Asked whether any of the more traditional couture houses balked at Vetements’s inclusion, he laughed. “When you are strong, you are never afraid of anyone,” he said.

Mr. Gvasalia said the decision to work with outside brands was intended to simplify the collection’s production in the newly truncated time frame. “To spread the work around so we could just chill and do concepts,” he said.

It did not, he admitted, quite work out that way. Collaborating with 17 brands around the world was a logistical challenge. Still, besides Vetements’s own dresses, every piece in the spring collection will be a collaboration, double-labeled and double-branded. The collection will be shown at Galeries Lafayette, the Paris department store, which is fitting: Vetements has essentially recast itself as a department store unto itself, a one-stop shop for a full wardrobe’s worth of brands and products.

Mr. Gvasalia and his team went to work taking the products that each individual label is known for or does best (T-shirts for Hanes, heels for Manolo Blahnik) and reworking it à la Vetements, which often amounts to a sort of creative defacement.

“I told him we’d probably want to wash and boil and burn the shoes, is it O.K. for you?” Mr. Gvasalia said of his conversation with Mr. Blahnik. “He said, ‘Please!’”

It was an adjustment for some — “We’d get pieces, cut them up, send them back, and get shocked emails that said, basically, ‘What happened?’” Mr. Gvasalia said — but ultimately the collaborators all agreed to Vetementize.

The potential rewards for a brand, especially one not typically acknowledged by high fashion, were great. “It’s our first time on the Paris couture runway,” said Adriana Rizzo, the senior director of product for Lucchese, which has been making cowboy boots in Texas since 1883.

Even for globally recognized companies, the chance to be part of the Vetements gang outweighed any hesitations.

“It was a relatively easy decision to make,” said Chris Haggarty, the managing director of Champion Products Europe, who agreed quickly when Vetements approached him, despite the fact that it had “bent the rules” by producing the original, Championesque merchandise without permission.

Photo

Guram Gvasalia, 30, Demna’s brother and Vetements’s chief executive.

Credit
Julien Mignot for The New York Times

“You never know — these brands come and go, some last for a long time, some lose their appeal,” Mr. Haggarty said. “They were so hot at the moment and so current, we thought we should make the most of it while we have the opportunity.”

The rewards are also plenty for Vetements.

The project leverages the savoir faire of its partners — the tailoring expertise of Brioni, say — to create what Mr. Gvasalia called “a modern idea of couture, to make the product with the best manufacturer that does it.” (“He went to town,” said Justin O’Shea, Brioni’s creative director.)

It leaves Vetements in control of its commercial destiny, with the company in charge of the sales, distribution and pricing for all the collaborative pieces.

And it elevates Vetements’s status by association. Levi’s, Hanes, Schott: all are in the pantheon of great brands. Now by implication, so is Vetements, vaulted from the underground fringes to the center of the establishment.

“We were honestly a little bit surprised when they reached out to us,” said Sidney Falken, the chief branding officer of Hanesbrands, “but delighted by it.”

Both Demna and Guram Gvasalia emphasized their respect for their collaborators.

“Vetements this season is like a glue that brings all the brands together,” said Guram.

But it is also good business. They both hope that some of the collaborations will continue into future.

“What I wanted to achieve was really something that I had in mind from the beginning when I started Vetements,” Demna Gvasalia said. “Of course nobody knew about us, we had no resources, nothing — but it was very product-oriented concept.”

Now Vetements is fending off acquisition and investment offers, and has grown from four in a bedroom to 25 in a studio and offices it is already outgrowing, with an in-house atelier, patternmakers and a development team.

“Finally,” Mr. Gvasalia said, “we can send the DHL parcels with ‘Express’ mode.”

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