Demna who? The fashion person of the year for 2016
You may not be able to pronounce his name correctly, but you surely know who he is. Demna Gvasalia has just been recognised as the most influent person of 2016 by Business of Fashion. A quick insight into the man everybody loves to love.
It can take a young fashion designer a lot of years before he or she gets anywhere. Vogue Italia’s September issue comes with an annual supplement that highlights fresh talent. In the last one, Vogue Talents 2016, besides recent graduates from the best schools around the world, you’ll find designers and brands that have five or six years of work behind them (see the Japanese brand The Reracs or JPlus eyewear if you don’t believe us). So, where do people get this idea that success comes with a snap of the fingers? Don’t blame it all on Instagram and Youtube stars. Point your finger rightfully at Demna Gvasalia.
There is a lot of discussion around Vetements, the brand that Demna built alongside his brother Guram, but, whether you like it or not, it was an overnight success. The brand was only established in 2014, but public awe quickly came from every corner. I-D magazine called it “the biggest worldwide fashion phenomenon on the Internet age” and Kanye tweeted “I’m going to steal Demna from Balenciaga”. Oh yeah, being appointed creative director of one of the biggest fashion houses in the world helped, of course. Only a year after launching Vetements, Demna became Balenciaga’s creative director. BAM! Another smash hit.
There’s an awkwardness in the root of his success that goes beyond his rise to fame. It starts with the shape and size of the garments and goes all the way through to the models he casts for his runway shows held in Gothic churches and abandoned TV studios. Many wonder (and have written) about what it is Demna is trying to say to us as a society, but he seems to not be too bothered about being understood as long as every collection gets sold out.
The Vetements' creative director told i-D that they had received an email from a man who had bought the ‘Polizei’ print trench coat and shortly after was arrested while wearing it around a park in Stuttgart. Even though no law in Germany protects the commercial use of the word for the police, the man spent two hours in custody. “They confiscated his trench coat, so we sent him another one. I don’t know how many other people will be arrested in Germany, because they all sold out quite fast”, said Demna. He is laughing at your expense.
Don’t take your Balenciaga’s to the pub
There’s this guy at work… Let’s call him Shawn. What you need to know about Shawn is that he’s your typical bloke. Love’s his football, getting smashed and smashing everything he can. So one day, in desperate need of some topic to chat to him about – er, we don’t have a lot in common –, I showed him the runway pictures from Demna’s first show for Balenciaga. Needless to say Shawn was as disgusted as he was confused. He thought everything was ugly and he expressed those feelings saying that “If a girl wore any of that to the pub, I wouldn’t want to go near her!”. You could wonder about the taste of a man who bought a Hangover vest and wore it to a first date (and yes, we mean Hangover the movie, not some new indie designer), but he does have a point. Fortunately for Balenciaga, a lot of other people do want to wear it and they buy it too!
“With Demna as Artistic Director of Balenciaga, the essence of exclusive haute couture, his work expresses a dramatic change in the character of high fashion”, wrote Suzy Menkes in an article for Vogue Japan. Fashion has always been a dream, until Gvasalia turned it into a mirror. Those long sleeves that stretch almost to the knees, the jeans made of two pairs thorn apart and sewed together, the jackets with the double collar, that’s not who we want to be, but maybe that’s who we are. Maybe we’ve lost our way. Maybe all this information flowing around just made us more confused – and messed up.
Looking at a model wearing Vetements makes me think of those mornings where you’ve slept at someone’s house. You have the clothes you wore to go out at night – and that now look weird for a Wednesday morning – and some other stuff you can borrow from someone who’s not your shape nor size. You somehow manage to pull a look together mixing these two worlds and it’s a mess – still, there’s an element of cool that stands out.
Demna may create the clothes, but it’s Lotta Volkova making the magic happen. The 32-year-old Russian is Vetements' stylist, model and muse and has been labelled the “coolest woman in the world” by The Guardian. During an interview with the British newspaper last September, she said “of course conventionally beautiful things are beautiful, but everyone finds them beautiful and I find that boring. I want to be inspired by things that not everyone knows.”. Lotta herself is not conventional, of course. Shawn would not try to chat her up at the pub. With her short neck and square face her features are as empty as they are striking.
In spite of her intimidating look and awkwardness, she does not stand out so much in the runway as she is surrounded by other Vetements' friends and collaborators that fit the script. Beauty is not perfection in this world and it does not follow the same rules. Despising usual standards, this collective of like-minded creatives puts brotherhood first leaving such frivolous things as beauty to the boring people. United they stand, and they do stand strong.
However, the next time someone asks you when did fashion become so ugly, inquire if they’ve ever heard of a movement called punk. If they have any idea who Leigh Bowery was and/or if Maison Martin Margiela rings a bell. It’s not that fashion was always pretty before Demna stepped in, this supposedly shocked crowd was just busy looking at the Marks & Spencer Christmas catalogue while all the really exciting stuff was taking place. Demna’s great accomplishment is that, whether you like it or not, he made you look.