PARIS — The name Demna Gvasalia was whispered along the front row of every major show during Paris Fashion Week. With Balenciaga naming him artistic director on Wednesday morning, here is what you need to know about the relative unknown who is taking on one of the most high-profile jobs in the industry.
What is his background?
The 34-year-old Georgian trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in Belgium (alma mater of the likes of Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester) before leading design teams at Maison Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton. Mr. Gvasalia was recently the primary designer behind Vetements, one of the coolest and most hyped labels to emerge in Paris in recent seasons. Its spring show on Thursday took place on the upper floor of a gaudy Chinese restaurant, and it attracted attention from style-set movers and shakers as well as celebrities, including Kanye West. Vetements was a finalist for the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize this year.
What is Vetements?
Now starting work on its fifth season, the label was founded as a creative collective by seven designers who initially remained anonymous because of contractual commitments elsewhere. They called the brand Vetements, the French word for clothes, because they wanted customers to look beyond the branding that pervades the fashion industry. Mr. Gvasalia only stepped out of the shadows, taking his place at the creative helm, late last year, although a strong collaborative ethos continues to pervade the studio. Guram Gvasalia, his brother, now handles the commercial side of the business.
What is the label about?
Vetements has made its name through deconstructionist designs centered around reimagined urban streetwear. The proportions are often oversize, and there are quirky twists and unconventional materials that subvert expectations.
The latest spring collection included black oversize sweaters with versatile, flippable hoods that could be worn back to front or front to back, tracksuit bottoms with tongue-in-cheek Vetements insignia, and skirts and hoodies with the work of graffiti artists from the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris transposed onto the clothes.
Sock bootees were molded to look like toes, while floral-printed tea dresses and evening slips with cutaway backs were made in cheap velour with what Demna Gvasalia called a “Juicy Couture” finish.
“I wanted to take an expensive silhouette and deliberately subvert the purpose of the garment by using a tacky material,” Mr. Gvasalia said. “It gives it a different energy.”
That energy he seeks to encapsulate emanates from the grungy cool kids of Paris, some of whom walked on the runway in his Friday show. Models were scouted almost entirely from Instagram and Facebook, and they stormed down the runway at lightning speed.
“I wanted there to be energy and authenticity,” he said. “If people were interested in the clothes, then they would return to take a closer look.”
What happens now?
Mr. Gvasalia is the only member of Vetements making the jump to Balenciaga, and despite his new duties, the designer was at pains to emphasize during follow-up appointments at his 10th arrondissement studio that he would have a continuing association with the Vetements brand.
“I’ve already started working on next season for Vetements,” he said. “This is a label and a project that I am committed to for a lifetime.”
An earlier version of this article misidentified the Paris neighborhood where the graffiti artists whose designs appeared on Vetements clothing were located. It is Montmartre, not the Marais.