Beauty in the Everyday Uniform & Vetements

Often overlooked as a mundane detail of the everyday experience, the humble uniform is unwittingly driving the latest fashion collections and subsequent trends. From construction workers to DHL delivery drivers, bakers, police personnel, and trash collectors, many blue collar workers wear standardized uniforms day in and day out. These uniforms send out codes/messages that allow those who come into contact with said personnel to recognize their position and role in society instantaneously. 

When this standardization is recontextualized, however, visual intrigue and subsequent consumer and outsider curiosity occurs.

So… can the next big thing be hiding right before our very eyes on the street?

Designers like the 35 year old Demna Gvasalia, the founder of cult fashion label Vetements and recently appointed creative director of the famed fashion house Balenciaga, seem to think so. A graduate from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium in 2006, Gvasalia headed the womenswear studio at Maison Martin Margiela for a span of four years and worked under Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquiere at Louis Vuitton beginning in 2013. With the foundation of Vetements a mere three years ago, Gvasalia is already pushing boundaries within the fashion world with his work. 

Gvasalia's DHL Shirt

In his recent interview with fashion journalist Alexander Fury for Fantastic Man, Gvasalia, born in Georgia, notes that growing up in the Soviet Union shifted his perspective and cultivated a “fascination with things that are so normal in Western culture and society.” This unique worldview bred an appreciation for the norm and the everyday which provides an explanation for many of his creative decisions at Vetements. 

The designer’s appreciation of the norm allowed him to look to the streets as reference points for multiple garments that have caused a great deal of buzz throughout the fashion community in the past year. Such garments include the now iconic yellow DHL short sleeve crewneck t-shirt that boasts the logo of the global courier service ($330, sold out). Other Vetements garments of the like include the black oversized Polizei long sleeved hooded rain coat ($220, sold out) and the green French terry Polizei hoodie ($885, sold out) which reference German police force garments. 

Gvasalia's Reappropriated Garments

The idea of appropriation is not a new phenomenon, however – ushered in by Duchamp in 1917 with his iconic readymade The Fountain, he introduced the idea of challenging familiarly and context within art. In the following decades, art movements such as Dada, Surrealism, and Pop continued to play on these ideas of appropriation. 

Duchamp, Fountain 1917

During the 1960s Andy Warhol famously experimented with appropriation in works such as 100 Soup Cans, Marilyn Diptych, and 100 Coke Bottles. By recontextualizing familiar figures, logos, and imagery, he was able to create a new dialogue between the familiar images and the viewers. 

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych 1962

Warhol, in addition to many other artists in the following decades such as Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, and Sherrie Levine played with the idea of appropriation, creating new thoughts for objects and imagery that challenged their typical associations. In the case of Vetements, once printed upon a high fashion garment, the meaning of logo and text belonging to bodies such as DHL and the German police force are completely recontextualized and challenge the viewer to make new assumptions and associations.

Koons, New Hoover Convertibles 1981-1987

As the result of Gvasalia’s work at Vetements, the appropriation of everyday images and garments have taken a strong hold in contemporary fashion. By recognizing the unique beauty found in the everyday uniform, the designer is able to continue the narrative of appropriation art into the next generation of creatives, designers, and artists alike. 

When looking at the Gvasalia’s ideas regarding his label, he notes that “the most important thing is that it’s clearly about clothes to wear.” Once again, looking toward the everyday uniform, the designer strays away from the sometimes unwearable garments often correlated with high fashion and focuses on wearability and pragmatism of the label’s garments. 

A DHL Uniform: High Fashion? 

Looking towards creating a pragmatic wardrobe as opposed to focusing on an overarching concept for Vetements, Gvasalia states, “if you come to somebody’s place and you have a look at their wardrobe, there is no concept; there’s a flannel shirt, an evening dress, jeans, a pair of boots. That’s our approach. Every season we start designing a wardrobe.” Thinking about the everyday clothes you reach for, the designer, in terms of Vetements, is not interested in creating the typical collections presented at fashion weeks around the world; he simply desires to construct garments that reflect and reference the norm – with a high fashion twist.  

Many can learn from Gvasalia’s unique approach by simply opening their eyes to the beauty of the everyday uniform – a runway show is unfolding right before our very eyes on every street corner in the world - it is only a question of perspective. 

Images via J'ai Perdu Ma Veste, SSENSE, Artsy, DHL

Damian M.

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