Fall 2016

Mar 3, 2016

By Sarah Mower

No doubt about it: The flagging spirits of Paris fashion have had a shot in the arm since the Vetements collective, led by Demna Gvasalia, came on the scene. Their channeling and upgrading of everyday street style into high style has exerted a massive influence as designers and brands both established and even younger have found it impossible to resist the gravitational pull of Vetements’s outsize tailoring, printed dresses, and thigh-high boots. The feeling that a young, outsider energy is rushing into the spiritual vacuum which currently exists at the center of the establishment is healthy, exciting, and perfectly timed.

And here they all were, the band of friends and girls and boys cast from Instagram, led out by Lotta Volkova, the Russian stylist, den mother, and agitator of the crew, who was wearing an almost obscenely short brown childlike dress with pinched-in shoulders and a lace collar, and holding a bunch of yellow flowers. They were storming along the aisles of a church, the gothic American Cathedral right in the heart of the establishment Avenue Georges V.

Why a church? “I was in such a dark place while we were doing this,” said Gvasalia. “First we showed in a nightclub, then a restaurant—so I thought, ‘Let’s do it in a church this time.’ ” What Gvasalia omitted to spell out was that the terrorist attacks, whose victims were mostly young people, took place in Paris last November, when he was designing both this collection and the first he will show for Balenciaga this week. So the symbolism of the venue felt at least double-edged—charged with a contradictorily joyful kind of nihilism, a sense of a youthful life force on the move, which, for all its obscene T-shirt slogans, didn’t feel entirely sacriligious. There but for the grace of God?

This group, at least, are running with every opportunity they have created to shake up the center of fashion and insist on placing their inclusive values within it. They also smartly dealt out new silhouettes—abbreviated school uniforms with school-tie chokers, shrunken shoulder lines as well as even more gigantic, boxier ones than before. Fast and furious came the ideas: hoodies and sweatshirt-maxis printed with the words Sexual Fantasies; oversize men’s pin-striped shirts, velvet pant suits, legs in a dozen variations on thigh boots—one of them painted like tattoos—or clad in long, sexy white socks beneath miniscule skirts.

Still, what was noticeable in this mix was that, rather than just being subversive for the sake of the gestural politics, Vetements means business. Its hoodies have a cult appeal in one direction, but for the fashion congregation there is also so much to believe in here: not just the wearable, desirable printed blouses and dresses, but also the hope that this is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Paris fashion.