Since my personal identity card to enter the Vetements show morphed me into a young and rather pretty Norwegian woman, I felt kindly towards the disruptive brand. There was even a large and generous seating arrangement in the vast foyer of the venue, Paris’s Pompidou Centre.
But by the time the show started, I realized it was business as usual for Vetements and its sly vision of “ordinary people”. I might have been at an airport looking despairingly at how those ordinary folk present themselves, yet I soon realized there was, as ever with designer and co-founder Demna Gvasalia, far more to the story unfolding in front of me.
The people walking by for this autumn/winter 2017 men’s and women’s collection were stereotypes – as it said on the piece of paper that passed as a program. And there they all were, including the policewoman in her utility cargo pants and nylon jacket worn over a crew neck sweater.
The clothes were listed with such minute detail that a punk with his plumes of scarlet hair was wearing “a customized black leather biker jacket worn over a vintage printed t-shirt and a pair of vintage jeans”. But there was no mention from this subversive brand about the slogans emblazoned on the jacket – “Queers Still Here” was printed on the back; “Not My Resident” on the sleeve.
The show offered every kind of archetypal stereotype – for example a couch potato presented in a padded bathrobe worn as a coat, worn over a cardigan and with woolly pyjama pants.
“It was dress codes,” said Demna. “When I started university, my most preferred subject was sociology so I think this season was a bit of an outburst of that: social uniforms and how people dress.
“Codes is something I always work with, but we really decided to emphasize it and to study each look as a separate person, as a character,” he continued.
“We actually have names for them and stories that we created this season. We managed to cast for those looks and it was really quite a fun project because we got into the details of their lives.”
It takes some fashion bravery to put a focus on “ordinary people” during the couture fashion season. But this idea of mixing high society and street non-style is not new to Vetements.
Demna and his brother Guram have already sent out these social misfits and unfashionable characters on the runway. But the result is no longer vaguely subversive. Now that Donald Trump is in the White House in America, treating the fashion world as if it were reality TV looks positively clairvoyant.
The Vetements clothes seemed not only about appropriation, there was also an undertone of social upheaval. In fact, everything this brand produces appears to be connected to the wider world. Those little cards that served as invitations were, according to Demna, “reproductions of ID from different countries, of nationalities – it was just fun because we like to play around with the invitations.”
But, of course, identity lies at the heart of the current turmoil about immigration. It cannot just be shrugged off as a joke, especially by a designer who admits that turning archetypes into something that looks normal, but always with an underhand trick, is at the heart of the Vetements’ spirit.
Taken individually, this collection had some good-looking, sporty pieces, fine tailoring for coats and colors from orange to royal blue to brighten the city landscape.
The result was witty, occasionally pretty, inventive in its shapes and intriguing in its message. The effect was also somewhat menacing. In other words: very Vetements.