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What Does the Vetements Conversation Say About Fashion?

Update 3/30/18: WWD published a story this morning stating that Highsnobiety’s allegations about Vetements’ waning popularity are false. WWD quotes multiple sources on the record, all of whom reaffirm that the brand’s sales are still strong:

  • Guram Gvasalia, CEO of Vetements: “Vetements is in the strongest creative and financial state it has ever been.”
  • Helen David, the chief merchant at Harrods: “[I]t’s flying out at Harrods.”
  • Rodolphe Nantas, Head Men’s Buyer at The Webster: “It sells above the average for all of our brands.”
  • Yumi Shin, Senior Vice President and General Merchandising Manager at Saks Fifth Avenue: “Our customers are drawn to the individuality of the brand and the product, like horoscope T-shirts and unicorn sweatshirts, continue to be coveted.”
  • David Sills, owner of Hirshleifers: “We really don’t disclose sellthroughs on any individual brands, but we’ve had very high sell throughs with Vetements.”

Man Repeller has updated the headline of this story and edited the below accordingly.

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The internet was abuzz this morning with the alleged news that no one is buying Vetements anymore. [Update per the above: In a statement to WWD, Vetements CEO Guram Gvasalia states, “Vetements is in the strongest creative and financial state it has ever been.”]

Highsnobiety quoted an anonymous buyer: “From a retail stand point, Vetements is completely dead…Over the course of two seasons no one is even looking at it. Sales have dropped dramatically to the point where you are now seeing Vetements on sale on various outlets at 60-70% off.”

“Customers were instead moving on to [Demna] Gvasalia’s Balenciaga collections, which offer the same look for better price and quality,” writes Highsnobiety.

From the moment Vetements’ $200 DHL T-shirt went viral in 2016, the brand’s success has been dependent upon its ability to sell ironic gimmicks, but gimmicks only remain exciting as long as they have people’s attention, and attention is transient by nature. It can only be captivated for so long before it moves on to something more tantalizing.

There’s also the reality that Vetements’ exorbitant prices put the brand firmly in “investment piece” territory. Is there even such a thing as an “investment gimmick”? No matter how you look at it, spending $1,360 on reworked Levi’s 501s or $924 on a Snoop Dog T-shirt is hard to justify. In a 2016 interview in The Telegraph, Gvasalia admitted that even he was not “crazy fashion enough to go and buy those things.” He said he would “rather go on holiday.” Peak irony for a brand that peddles irony, eh?

Highsnobiety’s claim that Vetements’ sales are tanking is anonymous conjecture [now refuted by the brand]. However, there are seemingly large quantities of Vetements merchandise that end up heavily discounted. Highsnobiety cited Quartz fashion reporter Marc Bain’s insightful tweets on this subject:

Even though the fate of Vetements is still up in the air, the conversation that is happening around it today is telling. Less than two years ago, Vetements was a bonafide industry darling. Business of Fashion praised its “commercial savvy.” The Wall Street Journal deemed it “an antifashion, finger-in-your-eye cult making a righteous critique of consumer culture.” Tim Blanks called it “[the label] the fashion world was waiting for.”

It was posited as the leader of a new movement in fashion, one that would administer a much-needed shakeup within a system seen by many as broken. Now, it is effectively being lumped in with the very symptoms of that brokenness — with our propensity to treat trends like easily digestible snacks instead of banquets meant to be savored over the course of months or years, with our news cycle that forgets yesterday’s headline as quickly as it clamored to cover it. Vetements found success by riding the wave of the zeitgeist, but the problem with waves is that, eventually, they crash.

What do you think about all of this? Let’s discuss in the comments.

All photos via Vogue Runway.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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