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“Everything has its time. It’s time for me to come out! These were the words with which Georgian designer GURAM GVASALIA announced on 15 December 2021 his new appointment as creative director of the globally successful luxury brand VETEMENTS, which he founded in 2014.
No one achieves anything without a great deal of work behind it. If you want something, it costs you something. Guram has had a hard time getting to where he is, no one has given him anything for free and despite experiencing certain difficult situations during his childhood due to war and as a child refugee, today 20 September 2022 he can boast of being considered one of the most respected designers of his decade and being the founder and creative director of two fashion brands. His latest venture? VTMNTS.
For all these reasons and many more that you will discover reading the interview, GURAM GVASALIA is one of the most interesting designers to talk to in the fashion world:
Highxtar (H) – Guram, how are you? Ready?
Guram (G) – I’m fine Gabriel, thank you. Here we go!
H – You recently presented your spring/summer 23 collection for your recently created and creatively managed brand VTMNTS. Are you happy with the result?
G – There are only 2 ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as everything is a miracle. Not my words, Einstein said it. The source of Creativity can come from both: the happiness, or the sorrow. I learnt when you are fully dedicated to what you do and put all your energy and soul into it, the result is always satisfactory, and will make you happy.
H – Can you tell us a piece that you are really proud of, and the most difficult to produce?
G – I come from tailoring, I get obsessive about garment construction and right fits. I fit on different people the same garment, in addition to models, often I fit on the team and myself, and adjust patterns accordingly. True craftsmanship is to have one garment to fit everyone who tries it like a custom-made Couture piece. No one does this today, no one bothers, I kind of do.
H – In this s/s proposal we can find a wide selection of double garments, something very avant-garde. How did this idea come about? What do they represent? If they represent something…
G – For me design is very instinctive, and very much depends on my personal mood. I started to wear the same black oversized coat one on the top of another when working on this collection, somehow it felt right. Germans say “Doppelt hält besser!“ meaning double holds better. Double garments represent the conspicuous consumption of today, that everyone seems to always want more.
H – The boots with transparent soles were another item that attracted a lot of attention. What can you tell us about the construction process?
G – Our boots consist out of 72 parts, and have very complicated construction. Not many people are aware how much work it takes to make a good shoe. Transparent sole gives a glimpse how the shoe construction looks from the inside. It is similar to watches that have an open back and you can see their mechanism. You can only do this trick with super high-level shoes, otherwise you will find tones of glue and plastic parts.
H – Let’s talk about the location of the VTMNTS show. How did you find this space? It seemed to be tailor-made for you!
G – Something brought me to this location, some inner feeling. I was searching for locations for a VETEMENTS digital show during the lockdown, when I saw that space, I knew it`s perfect but for something else. It was before VTMNTS was born.
H – Continuing with the ins and outs of the show, I read recently that you let the models choose their own looks for the show. Few designers, if any, let them do this…
G – For VTMNTS I design the pieces, and once the final samples arrive, I style them and create boards with confirmed looks as first step. Once models arrive, we try what I initially envisioned for them. Then I show them the board with all the looks, and ask which looks they would like to try themselves. They fit those too, and then we decide together what will be their final confirmed look for the show. Important is that they feel confident and love what they are wearing. These creates super authentic energy and an attitude, that you cannot fake.
H – And while we’re on the subject of models, if there’s one thing they’re all characterised by, it’s being totally different. What do you think about diversity in the world of fashion? Why do you think that the best-known firms continue to search for and offer a single prototype?
G – Fashion is run by big conglomerates who are very political. Diversity for them is calculated, they try to check a few boxes just to avoid criticism, but it lacks authenticity. This idea of a “single prototype” is a thing of the past that it`s time for the industry to move on from.
In VETEMENTS we have casting of all ages. We have models from the age of 18 until 80. In VTMNTS we concentrate on representing all genders. Diversity is the fundament on which we build VTMNTS. Diversity is the most exciting thing when you do casting, our models are amazing human beings, coming from all possible backgrounds and having such unique stories to tell.
H – According to what you say in the press release, it is possible to succeed in the fashion world without having an important surname. What do you think about this? Do you think that the fashion world is still as classist as it was 20 years ago?
G – The fashion world is run by few families. And congratulations to those families, and all that they have achieved. However, when an industry is monopolised by a few players, it is not easy for young and totally independent brands to succeed.
H – What do you think about the fact that there are still fashion companies that don’t pay their workers, and when do you think that those in power will stop taking advantage of young people’s enthusiasm and desire to work?
G – That´s a question that is good to ask these big figures directly. All our internships and trainee programs are paid, for example, as there is a lot of young talent out there who doesn´t have the financial support from their family or the government. I was doing multiple jobs when I was a student to support myself, I still remember working for free at Dover Street Market, just to be closer to the fashion world, and after long unpaid hours doing nightshifts at a bar to pay my rent.
H – What should change in the industry?
G – So many things, mainly for the big brands to understand that they are not running McDonalds. The packaging, the outside and the advertisement should not be the main focus. Creativity needs to be promoted, and something new is not what`s hot and what everyone else is doing now, but doing something new means going in the opposite direction.
H – How did you manage to go from being a child refugee to one of the most respected designers of your generation and today?
G – I´m still that child refugee on the inside, I`m still who I am and who I have always been, just doing what I love to do disregarding the noise from the outside. If you find your true passion and work hard towards your goals, you will be respected in any job you do. When you live though the war, especially as a child, you learn to appreciate every single moment, and everything you do. I learn not to waste your time on anything that is not right for you. Find the job you love, and that job will love you back.
H – Many consider you to be a role model and even a teacher. What does success mean to you? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by it? How do you see yourself and your brands in 5 years’ time?
G – Success is not something that has a particular meaning for me. Important is the balance in what you do, important is to be happy with what you do. I don`t get overwhelmed, as I concentrate on my daily life and work. In 5 years from now I hope that we can deliver 10+ honest and strong collections, that I could be proud of.
H – What do you think about collabs? Do you think, like us, that they are reaching a moment of saturation?
G – You know how it started for us. We couldn’t find a denim manufacturer that would make jeans that felt real, so we took 2 pairs of old Levi`s cut them apart and sewn them back together. We pushed that approach further and made a whole season out of collaborations, working with 18 brands, each iconic in their category. From Reebok and Champion, to Juicy Couture, Brioni and Manolo Blahnik. Collabs after that have become such a trend, that they became uncool. For me a collab works only if it makes sense product wise and is authentic, otherwise it`s just another gimmick to get 5 minutes of attention.
H – Let’s focus now on VETEMENTS, the brand you started with and of which you are CEO as well as creative director. Do you remember the first time you came across someone and saw that they were wearing one of your garments?
G – Not just that first time when I saw someone wearing my design, but every time I see someone in my clothes, it feels good. Little secret, we actually never send out anything for free to anyone. We don`t do celebrity endorsement, we don`t dress influencers nor do any kind of PR gifting. If someone wears VETEMENTS it means they got it themselves because they wanted to wear it, and not because they were paid to do so. That what makes it extra special.
H – You also recently made your catwalk debut as creative director of VETEMENTS. What feelings did you experience the day before and the day after?
G – The day before the show I worked for 23 hours, so the only feeling I had was not feeling anything. The day of the show while I was writing my press statement in the car on the way to the show location, it got quite emotional as it brought back many hurtful memories. The day after the show I had a dream – I saw the next collection.
H – The spring/summer 23 collection you presented in July was your most personal collection to date, in which your childhood played an important role. Looking back and taking stock, what would the adult Guram say to the child Guram?
G – I would tell that the life would get better, that everything that hurts so much now, will be vital to survive the future, that it will make him stronger, that sadness will not go away, but it will make him.
H – The traumas of the war were also very present: how is it possible that at such a delicate time your creativity and your mind were still working and receiving inspiration?
G – The trauma is not something you can ever forget, but working on this collection meant for me facing the past. It was my way of dealing with all the pain from those days when our hometown was bombed and destroyed, and our home taken away from us. That sharp pain has awaken this year again, it was so present at every moment, that there was no other way for me but to work it through and channel into in my work. The inspiration is always there if you learn to switch off your inner voice, it`s in the world that surrounds you, it`s in your past, it`s in the Now.
H – Your grandmother, whom you especially loved, appeared in the show in the form of various looks. How did she inspire you back in the day? Do you remember what you felt when you saw her getting dressed up?
G – My grandmother is one of those people, who are just born that way. Her understanding of aesthetic is impeccable, especially knowing that she had to live through the communist regime, and being Jewish in a very anti-Semitic Soviet Union. Only now I understand that the glamorous dressing for her was the way to rebel, to show that she is different from that regime, that she doesn`t belong in it. Somehow when I design I feel the same, that I neither want nor need to belong to the current fashion regime, nor to obey its rules.
H – The garment from VETEMENTS s/s 23 that she is most proud to have designed is… And the one she feels most strongly about is…
G – Each look in that collection was important for me, from the full barbie look, that inspired me to do my first garment when I was a kid, to the piece saying: “I ́m not doing shit today. Mission accomplished.” It`s comes from some very tough period of my life, that made me who I am today!
H – Some people have doubts about the difference between VETEMENTS and VTMNTS, could you clarify them?
G – Easy! VETEMENTS and VTMNTS are like Prada and Miu Miu, part of one group, two different brands that are not connected to each other. VETEMENTS is based on garment deconstruction whereas VTMNTS is based on garment construction. For those who are confused, just open both collections next to each other and see for yourself, the difference is clear.
H – What is it like to creatively manage two such powerful brands?
G – You need a clear vision and where you want to go with each of the brands. And of course it involves a lot of planning, having a super tight schedule and arriving to the Studio few hours before everyone else does. Fashion is about discipline as much as about creativity. If you have both, you can make it work.
H – Have you ever been on the verge of collapse?
G – I have been through so much in my life that there is not a lot that can hurt me. Difficult time was when my Georgian grandmother passed away the day before the LVMH prize and we couldn`t go to her funeral. That was really a horrible moment.
H – And finally Guram, what would you say to all those who are fighting with enthusiasm to make a place for themselves in the world of fashion?
G – Fuck everyone who is telling to you: you can`t make it! Work harder than anyone else, and you will get everything that belongs to you!