Balenciaga's Demna Gvasalia: "I Didn't Start Appropriation"

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.
Demna Gvasalia, the designer behind both Balenciaga and his own label, Vetements, has a lot on his mind. In a wide-ranging interview with WWD, the man who popularised the 'ugly sneaker' discusses the ongoing challenge of appropriation —and how he’s been a victim of it, too.
“It’s a big word everyone is throwing around left and right, but nobody really knows where it actually comes from and why. And that it’s not Demna who started this,” Gvaslia tells WWD, just ahead of Balenciaga's show in Paris. After the designer sent his take on Ikea's infamous blue shopping bag and airbrushed hoodies down the runway at Balenciaga, Gvasalia's inspirations have been called into question.
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Whether at Balenciaga or Vetements, Gvasalia has been criticised for charging luxury prices for anti-luxury goods; as Business of Fashion put it, Gvasalia sells “working class brands and motifs to [...] rich consumers.” The designer acknowledges that he borrows and/or references obvious pieces of popular culture — but that it's a practice that began with French artist Marcel Duchamp, if not before. “I have discovered Duchamp by discovering myself in a way as [a] designer, because it explains to me how I work,” he said.
He also points out that Cristóbal Balenciaga himself recreated everyday ideas and motifs for haute couture. “It was a uniform of the poor that he turned into an icon for the brand,” Gvasalia said of the Vareuse, a loose shirt fishermen in Spanish villages wore, which Balenciaga transformed into short dresses for the runway. “I just wanted to point out that appropriation didn’t start as a concept in fashion with me,” Gvasalia explains. “I’ve just maybe modernised it in a way that’s understandable for my generation of consumers who I talk to. Because we grew up with the same values, the same interests, and I would call this the first Internet generation.”
Gvasalia says that his work has been appropriated, too; see all the imitations of the chunky Balenciaga Triple S after it came out in September 2017. He doesn't consider those shoes, by the way, to be 'ugly.' “It was really absolutely a proportional exercise of footwear, and not any kind of a gimmicky play with what was ugly or not ugly in shoe design...I’m not part of this ugly fashion. I never liked ugly stuff really.”
He adds of the divisive, now-ubiquitous sneaker: “I hate to see small feet visually. A lot of guys don’t like to have small feet,” he said. “To me, large shoes are more stable, and more masculine. Also, I believe when you create a new silhouette, the product succeeds.”
Yeah, like those Balenciaga boots, you know the ones that look like socks.
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