Two years ago he was working out of his bedroom. Now Demna Gvasalia, the iconoclastic Vetements founder, is the boss at Balenciaga – and the designer of choice for the world’s coolest women
To anyone who thinks the world of very expensive fashion hasn’t changed, may I present the cuckoo in the nest. I am visiting the château-style Parisian headquarters of Kering, the luxury conglomerate for which A is for Alexander McQueen, B is for Balenciaga, and C is for Costly, often Crazily so.
What was once a 19th-century madhouse is now a veritable Petit Trianon of haute perfection, home to some of the world’s most exclusive brands. Yet here in one of the courtyards, sitting on a bench overlooking the immaculate parterre, to the right of a row of pleached limes, is a twentysomething girl in vast red satin boxing shorts, a vest that may or may not have once been white and battered high-tops. She is sporting not so much a haircut as a hedgecut – all chewed ends – and she is smoking with considerable focus. Not very Marie Antoinette.
Anonymous cool girl is taking a break from work in the Balenciaga studios, where the true cuckoo in the nest, Demna Gvasalia, is to be found. Gvasalia, 35, is the Georgian designer who first got the fashion world’s attention two years ago with his hip label Vetements, then got the rest of the world’s attention one year ago when he flogged a now infamous DHL logo T-shirt for pushing 200 quid. Next he made more headlines when he was the surprise appointment as creative director at the notoriously snooty house of Balenciaga. (Its founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga, gave up designing in 1968 because, he said, “There is no one left to dress.”)
Inside the Balenciaga studio, the buzzcut-sporting, hoop-earringed, electric-blue-tattooed Gvasalia is wearing Reebok high-tops that are even more knackered than his colleague’s, and a once black Sisters of Mercy T-shirt. (The ex-Maison Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton alumnus wears his goth influences proudly.) The designer who gave the world 800 quid jeans is wearing a pair of faded black Levi’s that you can pick up for under £50. But the charming Gvasalia is smiling too broadly and – even before we sit down – speaking too fast, to brook dissent.
Two years ago Gvasalia and his Vetements “collective” – yep, that’s how zeitgeist this lot are – were working out of his bedroom. Now it, and they, are the hottest brand in fashion, its very name having already acquired adjectival status (as in, “That is so Vetements”).