“I was half-sleeping when my friend sent me a screengrab, the night of the Vetements show,” says Khalid Al-Qasimi. “To see that print, that text, that color–it was completely surreal. I was shocked.” The Emirati designer behind London-based menswear brand Qasimi is on the phone, offering his reaction to seeing the Qasimi Fall 2017 shirt re-emerge during men’s Paris fashion week Spring 2020. Under the words “Don’t Shoot,” in English, French, and Arabic, in the place of the Qasimi label, Vetements was written in red.
Al-Qasimi is the first to highlight that he doesn’t own the “Don’t Shoot” copyright. He said so when the t-shirt launched in his Fall 2017 collection infused with political innuendo. In an interview with Wonderland magazine, he stated how important it is to address political issues, especially when coming form the Middle East. “I use fashion as a medium to have a discourse and exchange points of view. I always reference the Middle East alongside other inspirations, be it politics, architecture, or contemporary art.”
Apart from seeing an internationally-recognized brand pray on ideas of an emerging label, for Al-Qasimi, it’s the context that he finds disturbing. Vetements featured the t-shirt in a punk, aggressive aesthetic when Al-Qasimi intends for it to be a peaceful form of protest and an anti-war message. “I understand what they are doing,” he says, referring to Vetements. “It’s about consumerism. But it’s a complete F-U to the region as well. I used that print to highlight the plight of something going on in the Middle East. For Vetements to use it in such a flippant and provocative manner; I don’t think they realize what these words mean to us Arabs.”
On Vogue.com, Gvasalia explained of the collection, “I love uniforms. We wanted to design a Vetements uniform and kind of try to meme it into fashion.” Vetements has regularly featured clothing with corporate logos. When it emerged with the DHL logo on sweatshirts in 2015, within a week, its designer Demna Gvasalia was named creative director of Balenciaga. Vetements burst on the scene in 2014. It started as a design collective and quickly garnered attention for its streetwear. Millennials took notice of the brand, and overnight, every brand seemed to take stock of millennials. Now those Arab millennials are speaking out. “Demna Gvasalia fake activism to sell more. This is more serious than cultural appropriation, this is business activism for dummies,” wrote Samar Seraqui de Buttafoco on her account @ulap.
Without a doubt, in the Arab world, Vetements’ latest collection has garnered attention. And while Gvasalia’s tee reads “Don’t Shoot,” this move will perhaps incite local consumers to take aim with their pocket books and choose to spend their money elsewhere, in staunch support of Arab designers with a message and a purpose.