There are few designer brands that have received more praise than Vetements (meaning “clothes” in French) over the past three years. Led by brothers Demna (who handles design) and Guram Gvasalia (who handles the business) and operated as a collective, Vetements debuted for Fall/Winter 2014 with an undeniably approachable collection that played with construction and silhouette in surprising, but not groundbreaking ways. The Gvasalia brothers couldn’t afford a runway show for their first season, so they shot their thirty-look collection in Demna’s Paris apartment with their single model standing on a small portable stage. Since then, the brothers’ company has accomplished what could be called a global fashion takeover: becoming a staple of celebrities and streetwear fanatics with iconic logo sweatshirts and DHL t-shirts; accumulating sought-after stockists; and even rereleasing its first collection despite being too young to have anything that could reasonably be called an archive. The brand’s rise has been so spectacular that Demna was named Balenciaga’s artistic director less than two years after debuting Vetements’ first collection—a feat that is unheard of for such a young designer.

And, although Vetements has experienced remarkable success since its inception, the reality is that the brand produces relatively ordinary looking clothes and makes no bones about it: “A garment is a product. It’s not made to be in a museum. It’s meant to be in somebody’s wardrobe,” Demna explained to Business of Fashion in 2016. Demna is no Takahashi or Kawakubo or Simons or even Margiela (where he worked for three years, two of those years occurring after Martin’s departure). What then, other than Guram’s business savvy, explains Vetements resounding success? Like many of the great conceptual artists and designers of the past fifty years, Demna consistently demonstrates the ability to recontextualize familiar references until they feel new. Warhol, of course, was a master of this, but there are also more contemporary artists and designers—in particular, Cindy Sherman, Walter Van Beirendonck and Bernard Willhelm—who perfected this technique years before Demna could have even been aware of it, thereby setting the table that Vetements now eats from.

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