So, in the end, Balenciaga went with a dark horse.
The French fashion house on Wednesday named Demna Gvasalia, the head designer of the buzzy label Vetements, its new artistic director, replacing the American designer Alexander Wang. Gvasalia had been tipped by fashion insiders for weeks as the leading candidate for the role, but his appointment is still surprising in that his two-year-old Vetements collection, a super-conceptual, high-energy concept, is just beginning to take flight.
Of course, these are surprising times in fashion, when an unknown talent can be transformed into a leading force with a smart idea or a creative approach, changing the game virtually overnight. Gvasalia’s background is solid as well. Having worked at Maison Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton before starting Vetements with a group of colleagues, who had connections and friends in fashion houses throughout Paris. Invitations to his first big show three seasons ago were printed on U.S. dollar bills and passed around through friends, drawing an audience of cool kids to see his enormously oversize suits and cut-up trench coats, which were an immediate hit.
Gvasalia’s buzz only grew from there, with Kanye West wearing Vetements sweatshirts and attending both his shows this year, including the spring collection this week that went roaring by in a Chinese restaurant (pictured, above). Some of his big shirts, logoed sweatshirts, a Star Wars skirt, and prairie dresses actually looked like a spoof on Big Fashion. The message was not precisely clear, other than that Gvasalia has big ambitions and the ability to achieve them.
But his appointment at Balenciaga makes sense from the perspective of bringing new energy to that house. Isabelle Guichot, the chief executive of Balenciaga, told WWD this morning that Gvasalia is “someone capable of reshuffling the cards,” and, as we’ve seen at Gucci and elsewhere, that’s really what it takes to keep people’s attention in fashion system that is overstuffed with designer labels.
Hiring a relatively unknown, avant-garde designer at a storied label like Balenciaga would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago, but today, provocation is practically a job requirement. So while Gvasalia had the attention of fashion insiders until now, he most certainly will have the world’s eyes on him in next season, when he presents his first collection for Balenciaga.