Since Georgian-born Demna Gvasalia hit the ground running with his Fall 2014 debut collection for Vetements, the question of whether his subversive brand is “cool” has been debated ad nauseam. In less than five years, Gvasalia, a graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts who cut his teeth at Louis Vuitton and Maison Martin Margiela, has managed to turn the fashion world completely upside down. He made streetwear a whole new kind of fashionable, collaborated with 18 brands in a single collection, and has produced hot ticket items like BIC lighter booties, DHL T-shirts, and a recreation of that big, blue IKEA bag, the latter of which he did for Balenciaga, the other label he helms. Vetements is both absurd and real, and it’s infused with a seedy irony that has earned it a cult following.
Gvasalia’s latest collection for Vetements—a word that literally means “clothes” in French—wasn’t so much about the clothing as it was about the types of personalities we assume with our respective wardrobes. After attending the show, Fashion Unfiltered’s editor-in-chief, Katharine K. Zarrella, noted that the collection didn’t just acknowledge our reality, but held a mirror up to it. And perhaps that’s what Gvasalia’s aim has been all along. At his Spring 2017 outing, held at a shopping mall, the designer told us Vetements is “really about what we put on, and what we express by putting it on.”
As the industry continues to struggle to wrap its head around Vetements, one thing remains clear: It’s its own brand of cool. “It’s cool because it’s funny! It’s also uncomplicated, irreverent, and perhaps a bit of a piss take, but Gvasalia and co. are in on the joke, and I have to image that Vetements’ core consumers are in on it, too,” wrote Zarrella. And while many have criticized Gvasalia for recycling old ideas (particularly those put forth by Martin Margiela), Alla Eizenberg, a designer and lecturer at Parsons, suggests that that’s precisely his point. “Fashion is about the new,” she said. “He is trying to say that there is nothing new anyway.”
At tonight’s CFDA Awards, Gvasalia will receive the highly coveted International Award, joining the ranks of past honorees like Maria Grazia Chiuri and Raf Simons. This isn’t just validation from the American fashion industry, but an embrace. “Vetements is very much an homage to American contributions to our wardrobe,” added Eizenberg. “Most of the brands that collaborate with Vetements are American, and a lot of what drew Demna to fashion was the post-Soviet awakening to American brands.” Tonight, America will salute back.
Here, ahead of the awards show, we look back at the five most memorable shockwaves Gvasalia has sent across the fashion circuit. Consider this your SparkNotes version of his controversies, triumphs, and everything in between.