Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia Reveals Vetements' Plan to Disrupt the Fashion System
12 February, 2016
Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia Reveals Vetements' Plan to Disrupt the Fashion System
British online website named Businessoffashion.com has published an exclusive interview with Demna Gvasalia, the famous Georgian designer, head of the Vetements collective and newly appointed artistic director of Balenciaga. In the interview the successful and well-respected Georgian designer talks about a new operating model designed to fix the ‘broken’ fashion system.

Read the interview:

"Up until now, much of the attention on Vetements, the design collective led by Demna Gvasalia, has focused on the creative earthquake the brand orchestrated in
Paris over the past few seasons, with a product-focused approach rooted in digital culture and a raw, unpolished aesthetic, and buzzy fashion shows held at Le Depot, a famous sex club, and Le Président, an off-piste Chinese restaurant.

But Gvasalia, together with his brother Guram who acts as chief executive, is not stopping at creative provocation alone. Starting this year, they plan to roll out a completely different operating model designed to streamline the production cycle, take advantage of pre-collection timing and elevate the creative output of their fledgling label. Here, we learn how and why they think it is going to work.

How did you first get interested in fashion?

Demna Gvasalia: Well, I grew up in Soviet times in Georgia, which meant that me and my friends, we all had the same clothes. It was such a unified society that was deprived of information and of many things, which probably pushed me from early on to discover certain excitement in things that I didn’t know. Then we had the civil war in Georgia, where we had to leave the place where I grew up. We had this gypsy lifestyle for around 7 years, finally moving to Germany. So, I really had to adapt to a lot of situations and people within a short period of time, to be adaptable, to know how to integrate. I really wanted to study fashion at the time — it was my ideal, but in Georgia people didn’t really believe fashion was a profession, and especially, it was not a profession for a guy to study. It was some weird, capricious thing for rich kids and was not considered a job. I moved to Düsseldorf because my family moved there, and studied International Economics in Georgia. I was supposed to start working at a bank in Germany but that prospect was so depressing. I realised that I would be the most unhappy person in the world.

So, I went to Antwerp to try and enter the Academy there. I didn’t really know much about it and the whole Belgian avant-garde that had happened. I went literally because it was the only school I could afford. At the time it was 500 or 600 euros a year, I think because it was a state-owned school. That’s how I got to Belgium and studied fashion.

But it sounds like you were interested in fashion from the beginning.


I was interested in fashion, I just didn’t know much. Some people came to Antwerp and knew everything. At the entrance exam, one of the panel asked me who I knew from the Belgian generation of fashion designers and I just said Dries van Noten because that was the only name I actually knew and could pronounce. The person who asked me that was Walter van Beirendonck, who was part of the Antwerp Six. To me, he was just a weird guy with a beard and rings. He ended up being one of my teachers and I actually worked with Walter after I finished at the Academy.
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How did your training at the Academy shape you as a designer?

In many ways, we had to learn things about ourselves to discover our own aesthetic and what we liked. They try to push creativity — it’s not a very technical school. No one really explains how to construct a tailored jacket, you have to find out about that yourself, which is a hard process but it absolutely pays off. By discovering it on your own, you actually learn a lot more about it than if someone explains to you how to do it. So that was a blessing in disguise.

There was a lot of influence from this whole Belgian aesthetic: and the deconstruction, and Margiela and Dries. I mean we studied works and the names and methods of work that we heard about every day. So naturally it had an impact on me. But I cannot say that during these four years that I actually found my aesthetic — I don’t think so. I think I really started to understand what I liked and what I didn’t like afterwards, when I actually started working in fashion.

What was it like to work at Margiela, in that mythical place?

It was exceptional. That period of my life was probably the most formative in terms of fashion. My real studies, where I learned about clothes, was working at Margiela, especially in this kind of transitional period after Martin left; when the company was trying to modernise its DNA and find ways to continue its history. For me it was like an MA in fashion.

When you’re a student at a fashion academy, it’s all really theoretical. Here it was real, it was something that people made — that people wore. The most amazing thing was actually discovering the archives and looking at how the pieces were made and learning the way that the clothes were designed.

I saw the pieces that were done at the beginning of Margiela at the beginning of the 1990s. It was investigative fashion. They took a shirt, they took it apart, and they made a new one out of it. This whole idea about understanding the core of what you are doing, to make something new. They needed to take a shirt apart to make a new shirt. They didn’t come up with a new garment that didn’t exist.

It became a method of working for me. You really needed to understand the construction of the garment and to kind-of be in love with it in order to make something out of it. That’s something I learned there.

Why is that important to you?

A garment is a product. It’s not made to be in a museum. It’s meant to be in somebody’s wardrobe. But then again, you need to like what you do. You don’t just need to like your job, but you need to like the product. I don’t want to compare it to an artist working on an artwork — but it’s the same. You are kind of subconsciously in love with what you do, and I think as I am working on a hoodie, I love to work on that hoodie. That’s what enhances your ideas and your creativity.

Let’s talk about that moment, when Vetements was first seeded.

It was conceived basically between me and a couple of my friends. We would meet and share our opinions about the industry and what was going on, and what we agreed on and didn’t agree on. The pre-collection, the collection, all the things that we had to do. We thought the same way and shared [something] aesthetically as well, so we thought, why don’t we put something together in our spare time?

I could have continued doing that job for another 20 years. It was quite a fortunate position to be in, but I felt like it wasn’t enough. There was something else I wanted to do. It was not to do something commercial at all. It was really just to not get creatively frustrated and to do something we liked aesthetically. It was not supposed to be a concept or a statement, but really to make clothes, not for ourselves but for girls that we projected on that we liked, and for our friends. We started doing it on the weekends, at night, after work — just as a fun project.

My brother Guram knew that we were working on this. At one point, he thought there was definitely a market for this so we should try to sell it. It was really his initiative to commercialise it, make a showroom, invite buyers, etcetera. This is how it all started in my bedroom.
geotv.ge
I have rarely seen a brand gather as much momentum in such a short time. Why do you think that happened?


Well, I think the way we work is very intuitive. We don’t force things. We always work on one garment at a time, and for example, if we spend more than 20 minutes on it, we just cancel it because it doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I think I am quite fortunate to have Guram working on the business. The way he does market research is very different because its very closely linked to the creative process and what we do. He would never come to me and say, “We need to do that because that’s what the market asks for.” He will do his utmost to sell what we believe in as a brand, what we create. If next season we do a capsule, I know he will be behind it and try to sell it to the client.

You expressed a shared sense of frustration with the industry among the wider Vetements team. What types of things were you talking about?

Well, basically the frustration was with the cycle. The creative cycle that didn’t really coincide at all with the production side, and the demands and the number of pieces that we had to make. The pieces became kind of soulless, you know, because they had to be made, but didn’t really have a reason to be. That was the most frustrating part for me. You need to have a jersey top because that’s what the market requests — I can’t do a jersey top at that very moment, you know?

Our idea was to make things that we really felt confident about and wanted to see people wear. I wasn’t doing that in any of my previous professional experiences.

What do you think of the fashion system today?


What is not working is the fact that there is no relationship between the creative vision and the commercial vision. I think they are very separated, yet they are very dependent on each other, because the commercial vision needs to pay for the creative vision’s existence, in a way.

This dependency creates an unbalanced relationship because the market dictates what creativity needs to do, in order to sell. It tells you we need so and so, five trousers, and 10 dresses — we need this and that. All of this information comes from commercial teams and merchandising. It’s like you have a blank sheet or a collection plan you have to fill out every six months that was given to you by some commercial person, who based their research on previous seasons or on competitor brands that have nothing to do with you.geotv.ge

You have no choice — whether you are the creative director or a designer on the team. You also don’t have time to really analyse and think about what you’re doing. You have to be a machine of ideas that produces new things every three months. The whole industry runs so fast because we need to deliver something new to the store every two weeks so the client isn’t bored. They don’t want to wait for six months, so we have the pre-collection, the pre-pre-collection, and the main collection, which nobody is buying, so it all just ends up on a sales rack.

The creative part needs to be much more in advance of the market, and to offer something that is not out there, to challenge it and to make the market want it.

The whole system just doesn’t work anymore. This whole vicious circle turns and turns at a very fast speed and kills both the creativity and the business. Most of them survive on making bags and perfume at the end of the day. Ready-to-wear, which is the platform and the base of fashion, is really in the shadow today, with a few exceptions.

Balenciaga, on the other hand, is one of the most prestigious houses in the world, but it’s part of the old system that you seem to be rejecting. How are you splitting your time between Balenciaga and Vetements?

I split my time in half basically. The good thing is both of them are in Paris and my studios are 25 minutes away from each other so practically it’s a reasonable situation. I work two and a half days at Vetements and two and a half days at Balenciaga a week.

At the end of the day I have never felt so creatively calm as I do since I started to do both jobs. It’s basically about structuring yourself and surrounding yourself with the right people that you can trust and delegate. That’s how it’s happening for now and I am quite happy with the way it goes. In March it’s going to be quite crazy because I have to do two shows within three days; we’re going to show Vetements on Thursday and Balenciaga on Saturday. So, I only have one day in between which I think is probably going to be one of the craziest times I’ve ever had in fashion. But I am up for it", reads the article.

Read the full interview at Businessoffashion.com

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