This Month in Fashion: Anger and Waste Management

Vetements isn’t dead, Virgil Abloh’s in at Vuitton, and H&M has a waste problem

Designer shakeups, Internet fury, and a $4.3 billion pile of excess—March was a big month, and many inhabiting the fashion sphere seem to be very, very angry.

Take, for instance, the Highsnobiety article that made headlines this week with its assertion that Vetements is dead. The publication reportedly spoke to a handful of anonymous retailers and former employees who claimed that the brand was out of ideas and that its sales are plummeting. Vetements’ designer, Demna Gvasalia, and its CEO, his brother Guram, both clapped back in full force, stating that the claims were false and the brand is thriving. Well, of course they’re going to say that, but they’re backed up by a number of buyers from stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrods, The Webster, and Jeffrey New York, who went on the record with WWD to say that the brand is still a strong seller.

In the abovementioned WWD story, Guram referred to the “death” claims as “fake news,” and in an Instagram post, Demna wrote, “Vetements does not support wannabe journalism based on lies and gossip. Today my team at Vetements is the strongest it has ever been…My focus is, was, and always will be the product and the customer who wears it. Fashion is not about hype, nor about useless gossip or opportunistic pseudo journalism, fashion is about clothes. So is Vetements.”

To be fair, fashion in its current state is about hype. So is Vetements. But the brand is about more than that—its irony and sardonic wit embody our digitally driven culture to a T, and do so sometimes with a wink, sometimes with a wince. Demna understands and resonates with Internet culture more than any other designer at the moment, as Highsnobiety even pointed out back in July of 2017. And isn’t reflecting and commenting on our times what fashion’s supposed to do?

I’m all for calling out wrongdoing and questioning everything, especially when it comes to a nearly $1,000 t-shirt. It’s important to have a discourse within the fashion sphere—it’s important for journalists and consumers to think critically and not blindly follow what a brand or the masses suggest is true or right or good.

I am not for the speed and readiness with which journalists, insiders, and Internet trolls alike were happy to cry, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” My Facebook feed was riddled with mocking comments, riffing off a quote from one of the article’s anonymous sources that read, “consumers aren’t stupid,” which essentially suggested that Vetements was an overpriced scam. Widely read fashion sites such as The Daily Front Row and even the highly respected site The Fashion Law were quick to post stories, many of which took Highsnobiety’s anonymous information as fact (in the spirit of transparency, Fashion Unfiltered also posted a story that suggested pronouncing Vetements “dead” was premature at best). But who the hell are these nameless, faceless sources? Why wouldn’t one of them go on the record? And did Highsnobiety even try to get a comment from Vetements? I asked writer Alec Leach and the site’s editorial director, Jian DeLeon just that via email yesterday. As of press time, no word back. But according to a representative for Vetements, no attempt was made to confirm the claims. It’s irresponsible to post a story tearing down a brand without giving the brand a chance to speak for itself. Furthermore, does no one remember that, in November, Vetements was proven, via the Lyst Index, to be the world’s fourth top-selling brand? Yes, in January, a similar index published by Business of Fashion suggested that Vetements’ buzz might be waning, but “dead”? I think not—we’re still talking about it, aren’t we?

Maybe I’ve gone soft over the last decade, but it seems that the online fashion “community” is very quick to tear down the very individuals and brands it builds up. Is everyone so bored and unhappy that we need to demolish hardworking creatives with vitriolic social media posts (take a look at the comments on Vetements’ Insta-statement) and regurgitated news stories? What is that helping other than boosting Internet trolls’ fragile egos?

Virgil Abloh, who this week was appointed as Vuitton’s new artistic director of menswear, was met with similar Internet aggression. He replaces his pal, Kim Jones, who has since been appointed to Dior Homme, where he dethroned Kris Van Assche, who is quite possibly going to Berluti, which parted ways with Haider Ackermann on Friday after just three seasons. Yes, all of that happened this month, and also Olivier Lapidus was ousted from Lanvin, because apparently, consumers didn’t want a “French Michael Kors.” I, for one, would love to see Ackermann at Lanvin—his draping and forward-thinking approach to romance feels very Jeanne Lanvin. Oh, and Riccardo Tisci’s going to Burberry, which is pretty exciting. Even so, that’s six designers either displaced or hired in the span of four weeks—a speed that signifies that fashion’s corporate powers view creatives as disposable.

Abloh’s appointment is historic as he’s now one of only two black designers at the helm of a major fashion house, the other being Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. It’s also controversial as he doesn’t have any formal fashion education and his own wildly successful brand, Off-White, is another one that’s rooted in hype and streetwear as well as celebrity (it’s also been accused of blurring the line between homage and copying, which fuels the controversy). Critics are divided, largely noting that, like Vuitton’s sold-out Supreme collaboration, Abloh’s wares will be highly profitable, but that it’s somewhat of a loss for the design community. I get that—it’s certainly not Lindsay Lohan at Ungaro, but it does feel a bit like, after Yeezy and Fenty and, I don’t know, Selena Gomez for Coach, celebrity is being favored over design talent that can push the aesthetic needle forward, and that merch now trumps innovation. However, that’s not to say that Abloh isn’t talented—and he is outrageously hardworking, terribly smart, and very, very popular. Remember that BoF profits list I mentioned earlier? Guess who was at the top of it? Yeah, Off-White. Furthermore, Abloh does push the conceptual needle forward—like Vetements, his work captures the zeitgeist he aims to address social, cultural, and political issues with his runway shows and his designs. His appointment makes perfect sense for Vuitton. Here’s why:

Louis Vuitton is not a heritage couture house that changed the face of high fashion. It is a historic luggage brand founded in 1854 that added ready-to-wear to its repertoire when it hired Marc Jacobs as its first creative director in 1997. Since its inception, the house has been based around catering to consumers’ changing needs and desires. Back in the day, it was about coming up with new forms of luggage as new forms of travel were popularized. Today, it’s about producing accessories and clothing (in that order) that appeal to consumers’ changing desires. Given the streetwear obsession (BoF claims it has taken over luxury), Abloh is going to make Vuitton boatloads of cash. Vuitton is part of a massive fashion conglomerate, LVMH, and Abloh’s appointment is smart business. “I see the future of Louis Vuitton as pretty bright,” GQ Style’s editor-in-chief, Will Welch, told Highsnobiety in a recent story (in which the sources actually went on the record). “Louis Vuitton simply reflects what the market wants. And the market for luxury fashion is currently not necessarily interested in refined fashion design that’s understandable for the chosen few, but in pieces that generate energy digitally and represent meaning to their generation.”

Naturally, Abloh had his share of congratulations from fans and VIPs—like I said, he’s popular. But the shade from the fashions! The trolling! When asked by Hypebeast what Abloh will bring to Vuitton, journalist Angelo Flaccavento said, “He will bring a street-oriented, younger sensibility I guess. Unless he wants to show the world he is a proper designer and goes the experimental route—which is the worst scenario.” He also suggested that the appointment signified “a triumph of make-believe over real design content.” He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, and few in fashion are as well informed as Flaccavento, but damn. And Diet Prada, the Instagram whistleblowers who many think are anonymous but are actually, as The Fashion Law revealed in October 2017, Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, who have taken their account featuring sometimes on-point, but oftentimes unnecessarily cruel, “Internet bitchy,” or sensationalist posts to the next level via merch and working with brands like Gucci, (so if you think they’re just righteous fashion crusaders who don’t have an agenda, think again, my friend) posted a snarky photoof a Vuitton trunk with the LV logo in scare quotes. The caption read, “BREAKING: Virgil Abloh has exclusively revealed to us his first design for Louis Vuitton, a reworking of the signature Monogram designed by Georges Vuitton in 1896. He is set to debut his first menswear collection for the house in June. #fakenews #lol #dietprada #virgilabloh #louisvuitton #streetwear #luxury #hypebeast #lvmh #wiwt #ootd #monogram #lvmonogram #louisvuittonmonogram #offwhite.”

I suppose one could argue that a designer—especially one like Abloh, who has a very public persona—is, like a celebrity, fair game for mocking. But what is the point of that? How does that kind of behavior (which, in the case of Diet Prada, is directed toward young designers working to find their identity just as often as it’s aimed at big brands) support the creative community that everyone seems to think is in ruins? Don’t hate the player(s), Internet people, hate the game that the media—fashion media included—created with clickbait and celebrity-driven pabulum. As Welch said, Vuitton’s move simply reflects what the consumer wants. The consumers are the ones shelling out cash to keep this industry going. They’re in charge. Perhaps if we put more energy into supporting young talent and telling their stories instead of making Instagram memes, we could begin to change consumers’ focus and opinions and the world would be a better place.

Or, if everyone would prefer to stay angry, let’s direct that anger toward fast fashion, the insane, wasteful fashion cycle, and those who perpetuate it. March also brought to light the fact that Swedish fast fashion retailer H&M has amassed a $4.3 billion pile of unsold clothing—$4.3 Billion. That is, as FU’s Hilary Shepherd pointed out, equal to about 860,000,000 of its $5 t-shirts. What a waste—literally, a pile of it. But what do we expect? Fashion has bought into and promoted a culture of “new” and “next.” This waste problem isn’t exclusive to H&M—has anyone been to a luxury department store recently? Actually, you probably haven’t, which is why so many are lagging in profitability and everything is on sale. Fast fashion, high fashion, contemporary fashion—we are all producing too much shit that no one wants during a mess of made-up seasons because we’re terrified of being bored or of having to fill an awkward pause. And with the ridiculous fashion cycle, one that is both fuelled by fast fashion and causes high-street retailers to respond at rapid paces, we are destroying our earth, our designers, our value systems, our concept of quality—all of it. It’s easy to criticize highly visible individuals. It’s harder to make conscious changes that, instead of courting immediate attention, can help rebuild a broken, perilous system.

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