In the free time they can muster, buyers and editors who come for fashion week typically orbit familiar addresses: Café de Flore, Caviar Kaspia, Colette and the like.
Thanks to Demna Gvasalia, some are discovering a different side of the French capital, exemplified by his electrifying fall show for Vetements, staged in the basement darkrooms of seedy gay club Le Dépot. For his next show on Oct. 1, Gvasalia has chosen a sprawling Chinese restaurant in Belleville that he describes as neither pretty nor spotless.
“The unpolished side of Paris,” he grinned in an interview at the buzzy label’s new headquarters, tucked in a passageway behind the African hair salons and graffiti-adorned storefronts of the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin. “It’s really something we can relate to much more than, say, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the more stereotypical view of Paris. We know the other parts, and I think it’s important to communicate about the other parts of Paris, which actually exist and make up 80 percent of the city.”
Gvasalia, 34, said he feels at home in the gritty 10th arrondissement with its dingy bars and ethnic eateries, which inform his street-smart designs. While London may be better known for breeding antiestablishment culture, the Georgian-born designer insists Paris is more exciting these days.
“You really need to live here and know places. You know, walking around the streets or standing in the queue at the supermarket, that’s where I get most of my ideas — observing people,” he said, flicking the ash from his Marlboro Light into a plastic espresso cup. “I mean, there’s a lot of crazy people in Paris. And I think there is a new generation in their early 20s that do things differently now: They don’t follow the bourgeois guidelines.”
Least not Gvasalia, who left the design studio of Louis Vuitton under Marc Jacobs to strike out on his own, his brother Guram functioning as co-owner and business head of Vetements, launched in March 2014.
Named after the French word for clothing, the label hints at Gvasalia’s purpose: creating a wardrobe based on the staples the young and plugged-in wear today — jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, bomber jackets — all injected with attitude.
“It’s really a very product-oriented approach, creatively,” said the designer, whose focus on individual garments was drilled into him in the three-plus years at Maison Martin Margiela. He and his team work without references or themes, often dissecting actual garments and reassembling them, sketching them only after new volumes and proportions are created.
“The garment itself is for me most inspirational, the way it’s constructed. What’s most important is the attitude this garment brings to the person wearing it,” he explained. “I feel that the clothes we do are quite wearable and that’s why people relate to them. Our idea is to really show what we sell.”
If fall was slouchy and oversize, he hinted that spring would be sharpened up, though not to the point of stiffness.
The upstart fashion house is demonstrating sure-footed commercial traction, almost doubling its distribution this fall to 85 doors internationally, with particular strength in the U.S. and Korea, and more than 80 percent sell-through of its second delivery only a week after Labor Day. Among marquee retailers that carry the brand are Maxfield in Los Angeles, Susan in San Francisco, Blake in Chicago, Joyce in Hong Kong, plus Net-a-porter.com, Matchesfashion.com, antonioli.eu and nordstrom.com.
Gvasalia said he and his brother would probably slow wholesale expansion somewhat to ensure quality growth. He pegged current revenues at 1 million to 2 million euros ($1.1 million and $2.25 million).
“Our plan now is really to have a stable, very good and reliable production base, using factories we can trust and that deliver on time,” he said.
Despite approaches from two potential backers, the two men decided to continue going it alone.
Gvasalia declined to identify the investors, as talks did not progress. “We just decided to put it on hold for now because it might be a little bit too early after three or four seasons, even though it would help a lot to reduce the financial stress.”
Next up: men’s wear, possibly as soon as January, knowing that some men already buy some of the more unisex and oversize pieces. Consider Kanye West, who was photographed around town in a black Vetements hoodie the day after he and Jared Leto had witnessed that Le Dépot show.
“E-commerce is also something we’re working on, thinking how to do it in a different way,” he added, noting such a venture is still a ways off.
Forever dressed in black April77 jeans and a black Gap T-shirt, his arms covered in tattoos, Gvasalia looks every inch the ringleader for the emerging underground scene in Paris. While its clubs can’t hold a candle to Berlin’s, Gvasalia said he sees more interesting DJs coming to play in Paris, and independent fashion labels like his sprouting alongside the couture behemoths.
“Things are moving, I feel,” said Gvasalia, who frequents bars in the nearby 9th arrondissement. “Around Pigalle, there are a lot of bars now that are quite dirty and horrible and small, but that’s where most people go.
“There is a bar called Dirty Dick, for example, where you have the best cocktails in Paris, but the bar is quite particular because it doesn’t even have music. It is packed, but there is no sound, no music, nothing. You just hear people talk and drink these amazing cocktails. You can drink anything. It’s like a show. The bartenders throw ice cubes everywhere. There are a lot of fun places like that.”
Were it not so small, sounds like a perfect place for a future Vetements show.