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At Vetements, Violence, Love, and Reflection

Demna Gvasalia's Spring 2019 outing was so personal, he told his shrink to see the show

Fashion is often an escape—a fantastical respite from the banalities or sheer horror of the real world. Vetements’ Spring 2019 collection, which marked the brand’s five-year anniversary, was not that. Instead, designer Demna Gvasalia dug deep, revisiting his painful childhood in a war-torn Georgia and his ongoing journey of struggle, uncertainty, and, more recently, love.

“I went back to my past in Georgia to face my fears and painful moments…like post-war and everything there in the ’90s, and I made the most personal kind of fashion proposition out of that,” offered a reflective Gvasalia after his brooding, violent show held on the outskirts of Paris. “My house was bombed and it was destroyed. My grandmother, for one week, she didn’t have memory. These are all the things that influenced me, experiencing that when I was a child,” Gvasalia said of growing up during the Georgian Civil War.

He took those experiences and poured them into this intensely introspective Spring 2019 lineup. “I told my shrink that she should come and see the show. It opens a lot of doors to unanswered questions personally, and I think the personal approach is something new for me, which is not new at all in fashion, but I really enjoy it and I think this is what I’m going to be doing,” he said. “It’s a very different way of working for me because I always did shows that were just about clothes…nothing else really mattered for me. But I think I’ve changed and probably my approach to fashion [has] also changed. My interests changed. I realized that I need some storytelling next to making just clothes. Last season, it was going back to understand my creative roots. That’s why there was an elephant in the room, the whole Margiela, questioning creativity… This season I went back to my actual roots, which is this country that is troubled and that really shaped me creatively and also who I am.”

Gvasalia said that producing this collection felt like making a movie. His cast? Nearly 40 people he brought from Georgia who, he explained, “represent for me what I represented when I came to Europe years ago—that certain naivety and voice they don’t think they have in their country.”

The clothes, which stomped down white tulle-lined banquet tables while heavy metal blared in the background, were representative of the aesthetic Gvasalia and Vetements have developed over the last five years—oversized, billowing dresses jacked up with shoulder pads; hoodies galore; outsized, deconstructed suit jackets; and tracksuits and sweatsuits that toe the line between good and bad taste. But here, the t-shirts and such weren’t just covered with cheeky logos (like that famed yellow DHL top) or sayings (remember “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck”?). Instead, there were sheer shirts stamped with prison-style tattoos, windbreakers bearing the words “Russia,” “Georgia,” and “America,” and tops emblazoned with, as Gvasalia put it, “One of the most vicious swearwords you can tell someone in Russian.” The literal translation? “Go and have a walk on a big dick,” though the designer noted the English doesn’t really do it justice. “I felt it was something I wanted to say for many, many years to many people personally related to me, and I don’t have their numbers now, so I used these jerseys and hoodies as a tool of communication.” What’s more, the team created a Vetements app. If you hold up your phone to the slogans and images on the Spring 2019 clothes, it will take you to various Web pages that educate on the history of Georgia. For instance, a tattoo print leads you to the “Ethnic Cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia” Wikipedia page. “I wanted to digitize that,” Gvasalia said of the looks. “Otherwise, it’s a bit boring—a hoodie again.”

Elsewhere, there were bullet-embellished boots, heels made from upside-down Eiffel Tower keychains, and S&M-style hoods, one of which was done in leather and paired with a matching black trench. “A mask is kind of erasing identity, and I think for many years, that was the biggest challenge for me—to erase identity,” Gvasalia said. “That’s why I only talked about clothes and not about anything else. I didn’t want storytelling because I was afraid of storytelling. And these masks represent me, pretty much. That’s the way I always felt.”

Standing in front of a swarm of reporters, Gvasalia seemed to shed his former masks. But he was wearing a piece from the collection—a black t-shirt with a target on the front and a hole through the back. “I got shot through, kind of. Concepts are in the details for me. They’ve tried to shoot me many times. That’s why there is a hole. [But] I’m surviving. I hope love makes me survive.” Gvasalia and team Vetements have their detractors—fashion and Internet trolls love to tear down the gods they create—but they have a lot of love in their corner, too, from diehard fans and retailers alike.

This show was heavy stuff. Even the finale look—Vetements somewhat cheeky answer to the Haute Couture bride—had something ominous about it. But there’s a silver lining. Gvasalia said that falling in love is what helped change and evolve his perspective—on life as well as on fashion—and led him to create this collection. “I love all the time,” he said. “I’m learning how to be myself.”

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