5 Things That'll Surprise You About Balenciaga's new Creative Director
Demna Gvasalia is the relatively new designer in the fashion scene that practically everyone is talking about, yet whose name no one seems to know how to pronounce. It’s an irony that might speak to the founder of Vetements and new artistic director of Balenciaga more than we think: Despite being the focal point of countless fashion stories, at the tips of every fashion editor’s tongue, and designing clothes that instantly pique the interests of 20-somethings around the world, Gvasalia is much more than the sum of what’s written about him. That fact became abundantly clear this season, in which Gvasalia cast only white models for both his Vetements and his Balenciaga shows.
It would be a surprising choice for any designer, but particularly for Gvasalia, whose name has basically become synonymous with liberal, millennial-friendly buzzwords such as “youth culture,” “revolutionary,” and “streetwear.” Below, we rounded up some more unexpected tidbits about the designer of the moment.
Gvasalia designs, first and foremost, for people he knows—not today’s youth.
Of Gvasalia’s all-white cast of models, The Business of Fashion said, “It’s uncomfortable that Vetements and Balenciaga’s stylist-du-jour and casting director Lotta Volkova does not feature people of colour on her popular Instagram page…It’s uncomfortable that Gvasalia sees upending the fashion system as a modern idea but doesn’t see racial diversity as equally important.” And while this is true, it’s also true that Gvasalia has only claimed to be a fashion designer—not a voice of a generation nor a politically minded designer. As he told Purple Magazine, he designs for the people he knows. It just so happens that those people are (unfortunately) all white. “We speak in the voice not of our generation, but of a small public — the people we are friends with, hang out with, and share our interests with,” Gvasalia said. This by no means excuses his casting choices, but it does add some context. And makes you wonder whether Gvasalia lives under a rock.
He’s much more reclusive than most designers.
Gvasalia, as it turns out, does not live under a rock, but the Georgian designer did spend five or six years of his childhood with his family trying to escape his country’s civil war, oftentimes, according to The Cut’s Cathy Horyn, “hid[ing] in cellars from bombs and rockets.” Again, this doesn’t excuse his lack of diverse models, but it does add context.
Gvasalia currently resides in Paris, but seems to have maintained a relatively isolated environment—which, as it turns out, hasn’t done much to diversify his group of friends either. He said he’s usually “too busy to go out during fashion week.” “Or,” he added, “we don’t have the connections to get in, so we don’t even bother and just open some cheap white wine in our office and that turns into craziness.”
Fashion does not inspire him.
It’s safe to assume that, if you’re a fashion designer, then you’ve probably gotten inspiration from fashionably-minded people at one point or another in your career. And yet Gvasalia’s sources of inspiration suggest otherwise. “For me, observing people in the street is very important,” he told Horyn, referring not to street style predators, but to the average denizen, to whom “vetements” is just another word on their French vocabulary list. These are people who, in Horyn’s words, “lack fashion self-consciousness,” who don’t dress for others or conform to a look that may or may not be trending, but who “are inventive out of necessity.”
When people compare him to Margiela, he just can’t.
Gvasalia did not get to where he is today without hard work. After graduating the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, he spent three and a half years working at Maison Margiela, before moving on to Louis Vuitton. The impact that his time at Margiela has had on his career and his aesthetic is indisputable—from the exaggerated silhouettes, to, as Alexander Fury noted, the “recycling,” and “sense of the pre-lived.” Yet when Caroline Gaimari asked Gvasalia what he thinks when “people see Vetements as being the ‘new Margiela,’” Gvasalia said, “Personally, I just can’t deal with that association anymore.”
He’s very modest.
Gvasalia’s appeal lies in his subversive designs, his incredible reworking of staples, and most crucially, the fact that he isn’t like most fashion designers. In an industry that has essentially become an appendage of celebrity culture, Gvasalia stands out for his modesty. “I hate pictures of myself,” he said. “Designers aren’t necessarily celebrities who want to put themselves at the forefront.” It’s only because of the nature of the industry that he and his Vetements team have agreed to “do one selfie a year.” Otherwise, I imagine he’d gladly set up shop underneath Rob Kardashian’s bed.
Photography by Sonny Vandevelde and via New York Magazine.
Stay tuned to Milk for more surprising designer tidbits.