The notion of Vetements couture might sound oxymoronic. How can a brand that is built on subverting classic wardrobe staples, like the hoodie, basic denim, tracksuits and the slogan T-shirt, create a collection that is truly haute couture? Well, on Tuesday afternoon, Vetements showcased its AW17 collection, invited for a second time onto the couture schedule – the most luxury week in the fashion calendar, celebrating craftsmanship and the highest techniques. While the collective's show might not have been strictly couture – though it did close with a bridal look – it centred on characters. However, rather than the elevated, fantastical figures we might expect during couture week, like the fairytale woodland nymphs we saw at Dior or the glittering queens at Chanel, this show was all about everyday "stereotypes", from the club bouncer to the bourgeois lady-who-lunches.
Invites to the show, held at the Pompidou Centre, came in the form of repurposed IDs, bearing distinctive stereotypical descriptions instead of the attendees' actual names, such as Trash Metal Punk, Pensioner, Couch Potato, Stoner, Secretary and Miss Webcam. "This season was a bit of an outburst of that kind of fascination with social uniforms and how people dress, dress codes,” lead designer, Demna Gvasalia explained backstage to WWD. “It’s something I always work with, more or less, but then we really decided to emphasise it and to study each look as a separate person, as a character.” The show was a quick procession of ordinary people of all ages, races and social strata. Having previously been heavily criticised for the lack of diversity on the catwalk at both Vetements and Balenciaga shows, this was a bold swing in the other direction.
The show opened with a chic, older woman with coiffed grey hair, in oversized glasses, an elegant red dress and a huge mink coat – the quintessential glamorous grandma you might see on Rue Saint-Honoré or Bond Street. She was swiftly followed by the club bouncer, decked out all in black, including an oversized leather jacket, black polo neck and baggy trousers. There was also the raver goth in a puffer and leggings, the grungy stoner in a '90s check shirt worn over a cardigan and Demna's muse and the show stylist, Lotta Volkova took on the role of the bored office secretary, in a pencil skirt and blazer, shirt unbuttoned to reveal a lacy bra.
The collection comprised all the signature garments Vetements has produced since its first season – hoodies, trench coats, jeans (here emblazoned with the brand name on the crotch), undone shirts, logo prints, bias-cut dresses, oversized belts and puffer jackets. The dilemma – particularly for those not under the spell of the brand du jour – is that these were all regular clothes, albeit slightly twisted and subverted in some way. In fact, if you weren't in the know, you might easily mistake a piece from the collection as something from your favourite high street store, yet each garment costs hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
For many seasons now, Vetements has played with the idea of modern luxury and challenged high fashion by transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. It's indisputable that Demna's loyal fanbase and fashion fans around the world will be clamouring to buy this collection, just as they did with the tongue-in-cheek knock-off of a Vetements raincoat last month or its couture collaboration with brands such as Juicy Couture and Reebok last year. What's less clear is when the bubble will burst and Vetements will have to move on from its signature satirical style.