The new order and the new consciousness

FAUX REAL - Karen Bolilia (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2016 - 10:00am

Backstage. Lotta Volkova, stylist and long-time collaborator of Demna Gvasalia was spotted sporting a statement hoodie. On it: “RUSSIAN MAFIA NEW WORLD ORDER.” Someone posted a photo of it on Instagram and that’s how you know; you smile because it’s true. They have taken over, and you have liked variations of the opening look, a gray flannel two-piece suit with a padded hip, for what feels like countless times. On the day of the designer’s debut as Balenciaga’s new creative director, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gvasalia and his gang of outsiders (but really, insiders) have arrived at the strength of impeccable timing and strategy. By now you know a lot of them by name. Demna. Lotta. Pierre. Paul. Gosha. Clara. New York is displaced by Paris’ new, anarchic energy. Suddenly even Selena Gomez is in Vetements. Suddenly sleeves were being exaggerated everywhere (extra long, like you’re being swallowed) and Kanye West claims Gvasalia designed for Yeezy Season 1. Call it the Vetements effect — you haven’t felt a shift like this since 2009, when Phoebe Philo took over Celine, and for the years to follow, that was the look. Polished, easy, intellectual. Creamy, buttery leather accessories. It also thrived in unexpected pairings, often offset by Vans, Birkenstocks, Stan Smiths. Seven years later, of course, it’s all expected now. You cannot unsee Stan Smiths or Superstars. Everybody is chic, too chic — too premeditated, too taking themselves seriously, too many styling gestures that feel tired and inauthentic. Too much cash flow devoted to the “organic” harvesting of Instagram likes. Too many trying to look lazy, unfussy, deliberately wrong to look right. You ask yourself what it means to be effortless now, and the truth is it’s a whole lot of effort.

But this is how fashion operates anyway: a new proposition pops up in response to a pre-existing one. After many seasons of turtlenecks, why yes, give me a hoodie. Gvasalia and his collective is all too aware of that, very self-aware actually — that the whole thrust of Vetements is product-focused — to simply sell generic pieces of clothing (with a staggering cult appeal) that you can work into your wardrobe. It’s all about up-cycling old Levi’s jeans and reworking the dress shirt silhouette, the velvet tent dress and the lighter-heeled boots. Mundane, clever, provocative prints. But what they all suggest is an attitude. And that we like it so much — the aesthetic, the approach, the Eastern European POV — is symptomatic of how aware we are that the system’s been problematic.

Now, that is not at all revolutionary — and you hear many conversations whizzing about Margiela, and rightfully so. But this is what it feels like: it feels like someone’s finally making eye contact as if to say, “I know what you mean”; that in the last few years, it has gotten too big, too excessive, too overexposed. So let’s reject all that. They understood how quickly the industry metabolized newness, and didn’t participate. They held shows in an underground sex club and a Chinatown restaurant instead. Casted friends for their shows. Extracting ideas from subcultures and translating them into practical garments: radical? No. But a much-needed disruption to the structure, offering a new context for ready-to-wear. May the bridges they burn light the way.

Balenciaga in 360. I downloaded the app. Too much bandwidth for the Wi-Fi. But for a couple of minutes it was as if you were seated among them — Alessandro Michele and Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour and Juergen Teller. You watch as they wait and then miss it all anyway, so you refresh the #balenciaga hashtag on Instagram. Within five minutes you saw everything, and how ideas and concepts can coexist now. Cristobal’s cocoon coat is now a red puffer jacket. Parkas constructed with finesse combined with the right amount of street sensibility. Balenciaga is back. Then your friend pulls out a massive market bag, not unlike the one in the show. You laugh and take it to Snapchat. You’re both excited about clothes again.

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