To be a creator is to be inspired both overtly and subconsciously. One could say that perception is the source of life. Without the brain’s unique perception of its surroundings, the world would be painted with one stroke and no varying tones. It’s the reason behind Picasso’s ever-evolving self-portraits of over 75 years. The way we internalize and the output birthed from even our reflections could be a leading example of this thought.
So when Demna Gvalsalia (now the creative director of Balenciaga) co-founded Vetements in 2014, his meta-line was an overnight sensation. Suppose one could liken it to modern art where brilliance lays in the idea and doing, only to be scoffed at by the viewer who casually remarks, “I could have done that.” But it’s the range in offering that usually gives artistic allure; one might have been classically trained and completely capable, but their voice runs contrary to societal expectations of, well, anything. Maybe not a popular belief, but to know Demna is to love Demna and key to truly appreciating the fire lit by “Clothing’s” recontextualization of a pedestrian lifestyle.
With a United Nations creative team, their internal dialogue is a vast pull of global references adorning mall-goth aesthetics, which the audience is bound to recognize as a graphic (or three). When Fall 2015 gathered an intrigued crowd at Le Depot, a notably marked Antwerpen souvenir tee caught some attention. Thirty years prior, the couple and owners of Handschoenmarkt 4 designed and printed this exact graphic for their little shop in the city’s old center, which still sells for a penny of the price. The reference was uncannily present, whether Demna himself or another Royal Arts Academy alumni, but was the respect fairly paid? To the blind eye and financially, presumably not.
Not a new phenomenon in fashion– plagiarism, appropriation, and the robbing of small businesses’ intellectual property is a dirty business, though challenging to categorize Demna’s actions as the same. When contextualized, Demna was born in an ex-Soviet home, followed by a brief stint in Düsseldorf. The lack of Western capitalistic titans gapped the first ten years of his life, then an explosion of them with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. It could be that the late exposure to Coca-Cola and McDonald’s sparked curiosity’s fuse, planting seeds for the Spring 2020 runway presentation in a Paris McDonald’s. It wasn’t only Western goliaths but branding in general that flooded post-Soviet Georgian fashion.
In a way, an $890 DHL tee could be interpreted as a homage to that history, and POLIZEI coats to his Düsseldorf blip. Besides, Demna doesn’t only come for civil servants, as Walter Van Beirendonck diplomatically pointed to his former student’s first collection and its drowning in Margiela’s influence. So, if everyone is treated equally, does that mean all’s fair in the environment and war? And just because one can, does it mean they should? Or is that the art subjectivity clause…
Text by Shahrnaz Javid