A sense of urgency, realism and anti-romanticism defined menswear this season. In a world marked by a challenging economic climate, Brexit, President Trump’s shenanigans and the incertitude caused by the global rise of extremism, designers chose to focus on what’s going on in the street rather than create intricate fantasy worlds. Which is why couture, immediately following the men’s shows, felt even more like a 'let them eat cake' moment than usual. Until Vetements. Demna Gvasalia and his gang may be household names by now, but they still retain an aura of mystery. The days prior to the show were rife with speculation, further fuelled by the show tickets, which came in the form of fictional IDs from different countries – I was a Swiss woman born in 1968 – accompanied by a note titled 'Stereotypes' describing, as is haute couture tradition, each look of the collection. But similarities with the fairy tale world of couture ended there: the show was an exercise in hyper realism that felt like a wake up call for fashion.
It was only fitting that the venue was the Centre Georges Pompidou, since the show was something of an art performance. The lights turned on and, marching to apocalyptic music, appeared – sometimes one by one, sometimes in groups – each of the sartorial stereotypes one is bound to meet in any major city. There was the police woman, wearing a nylon jacket and cargo trousers. The Milanesa, a mature, respectable lady in mink. The broker, in a corporate suit. The trenchcoat-clad Parisienne. The German tourist. The hooligan. The bouncer. The pensioner. The volunteer. Each wearing everyday, banal clothes tailored to Vetements’s trademark boxy proportions.
It was a return to the brand’s normcore origins and a departure from its two previous, ultra marketable shows. But while hoodies and message tees were not omnipresent, there was no lack of potential best sellers here: a patent puffa, a beanie with the words 'Vetements haute couture' and a French flag embroidered, a camo jacket with a UN logo in its back and a distressed jumper with the EU flag on it (the last two political statements that particularly resonated with the audience on the day Theresa May announced her upcoming visit to Washington). Opinions on the show were divided, and the collection raised more than one question. Was it taking the piss out of haute couture traditions? How is a corduroy trouser worn by a pensioner 'fashion'? Can the catwalk ever truly be a reflection of the streets? Is it ethical to portray a homeless person on the runway? Was that a true political statement or merely provocation and hype? Well, answers to these questions don’t matter. The important thing is that these questions are being debated. And that it took Vetements to get them back on the table.