Wang Out, Gvasalia In: Balenciaga’s New Creative Director

By: Olivia Laskowski

In July, it became official: Wunderkind Alexander Wang would be stepping down as the creative director of the house of Balenciaga. Only this past week was it announced that the edgy, idealistic German national Demna Gvasalia of Vetements would step up to take Wang’s place. There are noticeable similarities between Wang and Gvasalia, but the direction that Balenciaga will take  is unlikely to be predictable.

Each of these designers made their own splash entries into the fashion scene, rising as young stars in the business, winning awards and funding for their designs. They will have served two masters, leading Balenciaga and their own brands, respectively, at the same time. 

Despite the similarities with Wang, Gvasalia will be leading Balenciaga in a very different direction than his predecessor. Wang was appointed to Balenciaga in 2012, less than three years ago. The fashion world, then, took a step back to adjust to the news. Wang, a designer of plain t-shirts and edgy basics—who is not French—was a surprise choice for the position.

Lots of questions arose about what the progress would be moving forward and about Balenciaga’s intentions with the decisions. Wang was enthusiastic about the position and optimistic about his ability to embrace “two mindsets” that would creatively lead two separate brands. Even with one being a mammoth icon, attached to all the traditions, history and pre-determined branding, Wang was optimistic about his ability to build on Balenciaga’s heritage.

And he did that. Wang was good. His designs were good, shows were good and growth was good for Balenciaga. Everything was good, or ok, but nothing was really groundbreaking. Obviously, Balenciaga chose Wang hoping to see him respect the heritage of the house, but ultimately they really wanted him to use the platform to push the boundaries of fashion. Alas, no real groundbreaking happened during Wang’s stint.

Where Wang brought minimal and edgy youth to Balenciaga, Gvasalia brings gritty, tough and jolting edge with just as much shock factor for the fashion industry. Gvasalia is the head of design collective Vetements. His name alone doesn’t ring as many bells, even for a fashion fanatic. But, his brand Vetements has made a splash on the scene, has taken over instagram and has definitely caught the eye of some higher-ups in fashion.

Gvasalia is a radical if fashion ever saw one. His philosophy is bold, Vetements runway shows are gritty and fresh. The collective’s clothes are eye catching, intriguing and shocking to the eye. Balenciaga and Vetements, although operating in a similar price range, appear pretty far apart on the design and philosophical spectrums. Balenciaga is a house of elegance, shape, heritage, refinement and tradition. To the eye, Vetements and Gvasalia really don’t exude these things.

Gvasalia’s clothes aren’t elegant, they’re rugged, bad-ass and gritty. Many are shapeless, and intentionally oversized. It’s only been on the scene for a few seasons and has no tendency to tradition or routine. Their shows in a dirty chinese food restaurant one season and sex club the past don’t exactly scream refinement. But, Vetements is bold, creative, idealistic, brash and thought-provoking. Balenciaga can see that, and they want to push their envelope.

As stated by Jess Cartner-Morley at The Guardian, Balenciaga is looking to “rip up the rule book.” Tons of brands, like Saint Laurent, have thrown in young, radical designers to overhaul their path moving forward. In the view of Balenciaga, it appears that Wang was too reserved, too refined, and too true to their history. There is nothing in Gvasalia’s track record that suggests he’ll be any of those things as the creative director of Balenciaga.

At Vetements, Gvasalia uses recycled, and unconventional materials to create even more unconventional shapes for his pieces. Every show they have gets progressively edgier, moving from a sex club to the top of a chinese restaurant. He once had graffiti artists paint his clothes instead of seeking out a pattern. He preaches a structure of equal participation and representation when working, arguing to create art and forcing viewers to look more closely.

How this philosophy will transition to the high fashion, luxury tradition of Balenciaga, time will only tell. All we know for now is that as a resident of Paris, he doesn’t have a huge change of scenery ahead of him the way Wang did. Additionally, he has said explicitly that he will be remaining committed to Vetements and that he’s already begun work for next season. On our next update, we’ll have to see what similarities we can poke out between Balenciaga Fall SS15 and the counterpart at Vetements.


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