Mar 2, 2016
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Refugee brothers' maverick label turns fashion on its head

Mar 2, 2016

They arrived in Europe as child refugees fleeing civil war and are now running one of France's coolest fashion labels.

But the young Georgian brothers behind the hip brand Vetements, whose new collection hits the Paris catwalk Thursday, have still bigger plans -- to revolutionise the way the fashion business works.

Vetements SS16 Paris Fashion Week - PixelFormula

Designer Demna Gvasalia, 34, newly installed at the head of Balenciaga, is such a hyped talent that the rapper-turned-designer Kanye West last week threatened to poach him.

"I'm going to steal Demna from Balenciaga," he tweeted.

But days before Gvasalia unveiled his first collection for the venerable label so loved by Jackie Kennedy, his younger brother Guram, 30, who runs Vetements' business side, said their maverick way of working could be a model for the rest.

With the industry increasingly torn by a row over whether collections should go on sale as soon as they hit the catwalks, Guram Gvasalia told AFP that fashion needs to go still further and rethink itself to embrace rarity and luxury.

Vetements produces only two collections a year, he said, while the big houses produce six to eight which means clothes are only in the shops for a matter of weeks before the price is slashed in the sales.

"The industry is overproducing. If something goes on sale, it means it was overproduced.

"In order to make people want something, you need to make scarcity. The real definition of luxury is something that is scarce," he added.

Vetements SS16 Paris Fashion Week - PixelFormula

"Every single piece in our collection is going to be a limited item... We don't restock and we don't reproduce -- if it's sold out, it's sold out."

Vetements -- which simply means "clothes" in French -- began as a collective of seven anonymous designers who also worked elsewhere until Demna Gvasalia stepped out of the shadows.

- Designers 'spat out' -

It made its name with oversized streetwear, cleverly juxtaposing cheap materials and luxury looks, with Gvasalia claiming his principle inspiration was riding the Metro through one of the roughest stretches of the French capital.

Yet his brother said the pressure to turn out so many collections was also impacting on creativity.

"Designers are human beings. Creative people need time... The big groups, they don't care about this. They take a designer... (and) the corporate machine eats them up and spits them out. And then, there's a new one.

"Of course I care for my brother, he's a very creative person but it's a lot a pressure, and I don't want to force him to do four collections for us, on top of his collections for Balenciaga," Guram Gvasalia added.

Instead he said he wanted to see only two shows a year, with Paris fashion weeks moved from March to January and to September to June.

"I want to have the solution that is not only just good for me, I want to have the solution that is good for every single brand that shows," he said.

Vetements SS16 Paris Fashion Week - PixelFormula

As a part of this radical change, Vetements are already combining men and women's wear in their latest show.

"Today there are no genders anymore," claimed Gvasalia, who grew up with his brother in Germany after fleeing their homeland as civil war raged in the early 1990s.

"Today you can choose what you want to be. The clothes have the gender, not the people who wear them."

France and Italy's fashion federations are doggedly resisting American attempts to reorganise the catwalk calendar so the public can buy clothes as soon as they hit the catwalks.

Instead of the autumn-winter shows taking place in the spring as happens now, New York wants them to be staged "in season" at the beginning of each autumn, with spring-summer collections following suit.

But Gvasalia said the row over the switch to a "see now, buy now" system is only part of the problem.

"With Demna, we've been through war, we've been through so many things in life, we saw really bad things. And once you've seen bad things, the fashion industry is (about) having fun. You start to appreciate life differently," he said.

Life as a refugee and their mixed background has taught them to think in a different way.

"We are a mix of eight nationalities and three religions: we have a grandmother who is Jewish, a grandfather who is Muslim, and a father who is Christian. When someone asks me where my home is I cannot really say," Gvasalia said.

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