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Appropriation and Legacy: A Recent History of Vetements

Appropriation and Legacy: A Recent History of Vetements

The fledgling brand Vetements has only been in the popular consciousness for a mere four years. The venture is helmed by a pair of brothers, Demna Gvasalia, the designer, and Guram Gvasalia, the head of finance. Through their shared visions, they founded Vetements in 2014 in Demna's apartment; that’s not to say that they are lacking in experience, however. Guram holds university degrees in business, management, and law, and worked in sales at Burberry, while Demna designed for Maison Martin Margiela, Louis Vuitton, and currently, Balenciaga, all after graduating from the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

Since its rise to fame, Vetements and its post-Soviet aesthetic, has been embraced by streetwear aficionados and high fashion connoisseurs alike. Their ability to appeal to a broad range of audiences stems from the dichotomous approach they’ve taken to their business strategy and design sensibilities. Vetements has made shockwaves in the industry by forging a unique path that goes against established norms in the fashion system. On the other hand, they are also embracing certain aspects of history, constantly highlighting two major themes within their work: appropriation and legacy.


Part I: Beginnings and Disruptions

Having been variously labelled as a "disruptor" and as "subversive" by members of the Fashion Press, including Vogue and Business of Fashion, Vetements has largely lived up to its reputation. The house has taken a refreshingly mindful, modern approach to designing and distributing its collections. Their shows, for example, have been held in various unorthodox locations, including a sex club, church, and restaurant. In 2017, however, Demna declared that Vetements would no longer be holding shows on the regular Fashion Week schedule. His announcement caused quite an uproar, with Vogue’s Sarah Mower calling it "breaking news that will stop the industry in its tracks." [1]

Taking a cue from Margiela’s low-fi presentations of the 1990s, rather than staging a show, the Vetements team took their S/S 2018 to the streets of their headquarters, Zurich, Switzerland, where they outfitted locals who then posed for the images of the season’s lookbook. The pictures, alongside the collection were then presented in a Paris showroom for buyers to view. [2]

In addition to not staging traditional shows, Vetements has also slowed the fashion clock by not creating pre-season, resort or cruise collections – an unusual step for a house that has had the honor of being a guest member in the exclusive Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. These shows have become standard events for many members of the Chambre Syndicale, as well as Alyx and Off-White, brands with consumer demographics similar to that of Vetements. [3]

Many of Vetements’ scheduling decisions have been made with respect to the production cycle and their efforts to combat fast and wasteful consumption. Despite The Fashion Law’s characterization of Vetements’ clothing as “ fashion...garments that are to be worn for a season and only a season because they are so heavily tied to seasons that wearing them any time after that would [date them],” the Demna’s explanation of their decision making processes indicate otherwise. [4] Showing twice a year and avoiding off-season collections allows Vetements to avoid the aspect of the fashion industry that he finds so annoying: overproduction. In a candid interview with Business of Fashion, Demna states that, “The whole industry runs so fast because we need to deliver something new to the store every two weeks so the client isn’t bored. They don’t want to wait for six months, so we have the pre-collection, the pre-pre-collection, and the main collection, which nobody is buying, so it all just ends up on a sales rack.” [5]

In order to demonstrate their stance on the matter, Vetements partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue to fill their window displays with large piles of clothing, a stark contrast to their otherwise meticulously arranged mannequins and mounts. [6] The clothing, a mixture of donated items and out-of-season merchandise were later donated to RewearAble, a social justice charity that recycles clothing. Similar displays were also staged in Los Angeles and at Harrods in London. [7] Far from a just being a publicity stunt, Vetements’ acts on its word. Guram notes that he “created a system to put a maximum number on the pieces we are willing to put on the global market,” a far cry from the seemingly limitless production and subsequent waste created by retailers, such as H&M and Inditex every year.


Part II: Humor and Parody

A large part of Vetements’ success may be attributed to their broad relatability, especially amongst the Millennials. For one, by staging coed shows – a relatively new practice that few brands have adopted thus far – and by creating a plethora of androgynous and unisex pieces, Vetements is tapping into the zeitgeist by working to dismantle the gender binary propagated by fashion. By producing and then showing all-encompassing collections, unlike the vast majority of brands, Vetements demonstrates the potential for democratizing and streamlining the industry that has for so long relied on the separation of the sexes.

Vetements’ satirical sense of humor has also worked for the benefit of the brand. For their F/W 2017 collection, Vetements explored societal stereotypes, such as the jock, punk, and the bro. Focusing on these stereotypes likely left Demna and Guram laughing all the way to the bank—the pieces were so engrained in daily life that it seemed like Vetements simply plucked the models and clothing off the streets only to turn a huge profit on something so utterly normal. Even the mass market Elle magazine asked “But given the high-fashion normalcy Vetements created via sweatpants, is the fashion house trolling the industry? Again?” [8]

“But given the high-fashion normalcy Vetements created via sweatpants, is the fashion house trolling the industry? Again?”
— Elle Magazine

The answer, according to fashion journalist, Aleks Eror, is yes. Eror points to the meme-like quality of many of Vetements’ offerings that “reimagine familiar objects in new forms that imbue them with new meanings in the same way that Internet users have turned Willy Wonka’s smug smile into an avatar for patronizing mockery.” [9]

Take, for example, the ubiquitous DHL logo that Vetements so unceremoniously usurped. DHL prides itself on the fast delivery of parcels, something that runs contradictory to the Gvasalias’ company ethos. Placing the DHL logo on Vetements merchandise heightened the juxtaposition between the two companies, and opened the initially inside joke up to the millions of people who then shared images of it on social media. Eror perfectly sums up the irony by stating:

“Demna knows that you can buy an almost-identical tee directly from DHL for a tiny fraction of the price. In fact he wants you to buy one, snap a photo of it and tag him on Instagram. This turns his work into a meme that exists both on the web as well as the physical realm. The subtle addition of three red lines that wrap around the back of the Vetements’ version are used to highlight this loop of counter-subversion to those in the know.”

It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that Demna’s memes have spawned imitators who don’t merely create counterfeits of Vetements pieces, but take the aesthetic to the next meme-filled level. Petements (the brand for dogs), Vetememes (self explanatory), and Balements (a mashup of Balenciaga and Vetements) are the major parody groups that emulate Vetements’ style and products at a fraction of the cost for those who can’t, or perhaps do not care to, acquire the real deal. No other contemporary fashion label has this level and type of influence with its followers.


Part III: Collaboration and Appropriation

To counterbalance some of the pioneering steps they’ve taken, Vetements has also acted to reinforce strands of history from both within and outside of the fashion industry. Their official website is just one example of how Vetements is tapping into the legacy of other key players in the industry to bolster their own. Thus, it is no coincidence that the layout of the Vetements website essentially duplicates that of the now-defunct online magazine, In 2016, as Vetements was in the process of making their own website, they decided to recreate the layout of, which, to the dismay of many, had just recently closed. [10] Given that had amassed a substantial global following, and would soon be resurrected as a much less successful e-commerce venture (that failed shortly thereafter), Vetements drew upon the rather astute observation that it would be sorely missed. In creating their homage, Vetements linked itself to the legacy of a fashion mainstay, signaling to the public that they are the keepers of this history and the place to turn to reminisce about this once revered resource.

Vetements’ references to the past have not been limited merely to their website. Through its many collaborations, Vetements has linked themselves to a diverse group of brands that all have a strong history behind them. Throughout their collections, Vetements has created garments and accessories in collaboration with Levi’s, Juicy Couture, Manolo Blahnik, and Dr. Martens, to name just a few; for its S/S 2017 collection, Vetements collaborated with 18 brands in total. [11] In designing these pieces, Vetements strategically reengineered items that have become synonymous its collaborators: jeans at Levi’s, sweat suits at Juicy, stilettos at Blahnik, and boots at Dr. Martens. By changing the proportions of these items, and adding additional details, including their own logo, Vetements has claimed these symbols of fashion history as their own, and by virtue, extended their brand history to far before their real founding year.

As Vetements’ collaborations and burgeoning parody brands indicate, Demna is no stranger to the rehashing, or rather, appropriation of other already existing items or concepts. At their latest S/S 2018 show in January—breaking their vow to dissociate from the regular fashion calendar —Vetements addressed the issue head-on by presenting an ode to his mentor, Martin Margiela.

With shirts that featured a drawing with accompanying text of “an elephant in the room,” Demna responded to critics who have claimed that he did not actively credit Margiela’s specific influences on his collections over the years. [12] (For five good examples, read Alec Leach’s “5 Ways Maison Margiela Influenced Vetements” in Highsnobiety. [13]) Moreover, aside from de- and re-constructed, and highly oversized garments, Demna also included an exact replica of Margiela’s famous Tabi boots, which themselves have been appropriated from Japanese culture. Speaking after the show, Demna discussed the role of appropriation in his creative vision, stating: “Everything is appropriation, we live in a world full of references that are there to feed us, but not in order to copy from it, but to create something new from it.”  [14] Once again, the irony was not lost on Vetements, albeit in a less humorous way. If Margiela had given his approval, or if the boots did not resemble the longstanding Japanese garment as much as they do, perhaps they would not have left critics, like Diet Prada, so angered at this allusion to the past.

Although Margiela’s influence was the main theme of the collection, another historical reference was equally as prominent. Growing up in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, the Gvasalias’ upbringing has had major effects on how they approach their work. Guram’s focus on maximizing profits while minimizing waste is contradictory reaction to the bureaucratic inefficiency and anti-capitalist stance of USSR and Eastern Bloc nations during the communist era. Conversely, Demna has embraced certain aspects of his childhood that he has incorporated into his designs. Oversized silhouettes were something he embraced at Margiela, but were imposed upon him while growing up. In an interview with i-D, Demna proclaimed that “My whole wardrobe was like this. My jackets were always too big for me because they were supposed to last for two or three years.... I think the reason why I like those kind of proportions and shapes is very linked to that." [15] In the same interview, he also asserted that “Eastern Europe is over for me,” and yet, the references to women wearing headscarves tied around the chin, a commonality of the region, and the subcultures that inevitably developed under such tough dictatorships, were still prevalent in his latest collection. Furthermore, the Russian Lotta Volkova, Demna’s friend, and Vetements’ stylist, once again opened the show, as she has done in previous seasons.



Vetements’ highly utilitarian, humor-tinged collections have made quite the impression since their founding in 2014. Although Demna and Guram Gvasalia have certainly acted in ways that have earned Vetements the title of ‘disruptor,’ they’ve also done enough to show that they are embracing the past as a means of moving forward. Demna himself summarized the discrepancy between his deeds and how they’ve been perceived by stating that “disruptor is one of those kind of words like cool. We didn’t really plan to disrupt anything, we just wanted to do it our way.” [16] As a newcomer, it is hard to tell where Vetements’ future lies, and to what extent they will continue to rattle the industry. Their compelling mixture of new and old, modern and historical, is certainly worth following and re-assessing in the coming years.



[1]  Sarah Mower, “Vetements Is a No-Show—Demna Gvasalia Announces He’s Stepping Away From the Fashion Show System,” Vogue, June 2, 2017,

[2] Sarah Mower, “Spring 2018 Menswear: Vetements,” Vogue, June 24, 2017,

[3] Kam Dhillon, “What the Hell Are Resort and Cruise Collections and Why Are They So Lucrative?,” High Snobiety, May 22, 2017,

[4] Julie Zerbo, “Vetements Returns to Couture Schedule as a Guest Member,” The Fashion Law, January 20, 2017,

[5] Imran Amed, “Demna Gvasalia Reveals Vetements' Plan to Disrupt the Fashion System,” Business of Fashion, February 5, 2016,

[6] Jo Ellison, “Vetements: the gospel of Guram Gvasalia,” Financial Times, August 4, 2017,

[7] Anders Christian Madsen, “At Harrods, Vetements Calls Out The Fashion Industry on Overprodution,” British Vogue, February 8, 2018,

[8] Justine Carreon,“Vetements Wants You to Know They're In on the Joke,” January 25, 2017,

[9] Aleks Eror, “Why Demna Gvasalia Is the First Designer to Truly Understand Internet Culture,” July 31, 2017,

[10] Nicole Phelps, “Vetements Is Remaking Its First Collection for the New—And Relaunching Its Website As a Replica of the Old,” September 29, 2016,

[11] Sam Rogers, “Vetements and Hilfiger Collab Makes Streetwear Even More Luxe,” British Vogue, July 3, 2017,

[12] Katya Foreman, “Vetements Men’s Fall 2018,”Women’s Wear Daily, January 19, 2018,

[13] Alec Leach, “5 Ways Maison Margiela Influenced Vetements,” High Snobiety, March 6, 2016,

[14] Foreman, “Vetements Men’s Fall 2018.”

[15] Charlotte Gush, “Demna Gvasalia of Vetements Proclaims ‘Eastern Europe is Over,’"i-D, May 26 2017,

[16] Enrique Menendez, “Virgil, Heron and Demna Talk ‘Disruption’ And ‘Cool,’” HypeBeast, Oct 13, 2017,

Ethel Traphagen: American Fashion Pioneer

Ethel Traphagen: American Fashion Pioneer