Submission by David Simmons
Depending on who you ask, Vetements, the Paris based label founded by Demna Gvasalia, is either the coolest or most heinous thing to happen to fashion this decade. Made famous by their humorous take on High Fashion™, which spawned a meme label imitating the iconic silhouettes and designs of the original, Vetements have polarised critics, journalists, and fans of designer brands.
Their 2016 DHL tee hatched think pieces in most major publications, with journalists citing how ridiculous it was that people would spend £185 on a shirt you could buy in bulk for around $6 off the DHL website. Within the dust cloud that is the manic reporting on every insane thing Vetements produces, is the polished brand of Vetements itself; a brand that truly has direction and purpose, and which subverts capitalist notions of fashion and laughs at those who refuse to take it seriously.
By popularising and selling their garments at exorbitant rates, and even stifling the production of the pieces through limited releases to stockists, Vetements makes their clothes accessible purely to the richest people in the world. No regular person can buy a white Vetements x Champion hoodie, but one can easily buy the exact same thing online without the long sleeves for around $50. By putting these accelerated garments out of reach and into the hands of the purveyors of capitalism, Vetements might successfully subvert capitalist fashion.
The politics of Vetements can be expressed via the manifesto of Accelerationism, a breed of anti-capitalism born from the revolutionary ideals of communism but visualised through a veil of cyberpunk and retro-futurism. The term, first coined by Benjamin Noys, embraces a different type of revolution; one created by capitalism consuming itself as it is pushed to its absolute limitations. The key point to understand here is that Accelerationism is not concerned with the speed by which this process occurs, rather Accelerationists are convinced that as long as capitalism continually accelerates it will eventually collapse upon itself, leaving a vacuum in which a new type of system can grow; one that takes full advantage of the technological advances created by the system of capital.
Though not traditionally “futuristic”, in the way one would describe Karl Lagerfeld’s 3d Printed couture, or MYKITA’s rainbow tint visors, Vetements is futuristic in terms of its accelerated properties. Instead of envisioning what clothes might look like in the future, Vetements takes a popular garment from now and accelerates its design, as if shoved through an AI time machine. For instance, Vetements’ classic lighter heeled boots; a concept piece imagining a post-capitalist environment where debris is incorporated into functional design.
Where the politics of Vetements is most evident, however, is in their numerous collaborations with other staples of the fashion industry. The list of collaborators is basically a listicle of the most iconic brands in the 20th and 21st century: Levis, Doc Martens, Eastpak, Reebok, Alpha Industries, Carhartt, Comme des Garcons, Champion, Manolo Blahnik, Juicy Couture, and Hanes. These brands were selected for a reason; they are the industry leaders in their respective fields. Levis singlehandedly created the denim pant, Eastpak perfected the school backpack, and Alpha Industries designed the most sought after bomber jacket silhouette. By collaborating with these specific brands Vetements has positioned itself as the most forward thinking, subversive brand in the industry right now.
Vetements’ Accelerationism is performed by the clothes themselves. The label hardly changes the original design at all; rather it accelerates the design and caricatures these iconic staples of the capitalist movement. In some instances, they turn functional products into the complete opposite: Levis denim jeans become uncomfortably useless after Vetements covers the item in zips, elongates denim sleeves beyond usefulness, and stiffens the already inflexible denim into boxy fitting bags of blue. Instead of thinking “what will fashion look like in 50 years” Vetements plays with brands they already know will still be popular (thanks to Capitalism) and mocks and reflects the absurdity of that fact back onto the garment. We will still be wearing Levis jeans in 50 years, but we will look ridiculous doing so.
Though Vetements may purely be a labour of love for their designers who reimagine these iconic garments for the present market, it’s hard not to read into their questionable release tactics and high prices. Clearly, Vetements making clothes which poke fun at High Fashion™ will not destroy capitalism on its own, but it is hard not to admire the brand for trying.