We wore Balenciaga at 10

I remember doing some, so called, modelling in Warsaw in 2013 and ending up in Vitkac one gloomy afternoon. It’s Poland’s first real department store selling high end brands exclusively, opened for these few thousand polish citizens who can afford brands commonly worn in western countries. We didn’t want them(these businessmen, TV personalities and WAGs) to throw money away on flights to London, so we transformed one of depressing, marble buildings in central Warsaw into that, many would say, haunted house, where sad sale advisors on minimum wage hide behind poorly merchandised rails to yawn and check the time.

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So I walked in there with someone, I don’t remember the name, but probably one of my seventy four ex-husbands. After walking past Saint Laurent Paris, back then still known and displayed as Yves Saint Laurent, we took a luxurious escalator upstairs where I saw these unique blue trainers. Displayed in the centre of fucking everything, on some silky, shitty tissues… I moved my hand towards the shoe and felt the earth below my feet shaking, temperature going up, all eyes of sales advisors on me: “don’t touch the holy grail, you poor fuck”. But I did it. Whilst holding it in my hand I started studying it like Prince studied the Bible. Then I noticed the logo printed on the inside. BALENCIAGA. Back then I thought: that’s the real luxury.

A few years later I found myself in the middle of the London mess. Together with my friends fashionistas, we consumed Frappuccinos on hungover and spoke about this new guy who started changing the game. Demna Gvasalia, designer from Georgia, who worked at Maison Martin Margiela before, created extremely popular and expensive brand Vetements (read: vet-mo). Just like Amy Winehouse into the music mainstream, he brought nonchalant I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude and image into the pompous world of white shirts and colorful dresses. Gvasalia transformed things unfashionable and common into a luxury business.

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It all started with Vetements. The success of the brand he started, transformed him into the fashion power he is today. His brand became popular thanks to oversized jackets and death metal sweatshirts that were originally meant to imitate clothing worn by people who, well, don’t give a damn about fashion and changing trends. Oh no, pardon me, I think the ironic DHL t-shirts were first, and the irony is the most important word here, apparently.

“Irony is both about making you smile or laugh, but it can also be quite painful because it asks questions. With irony, you can ask questions that are delicate, but there’s a thin line between irony and sarcasm so I have to be careful not to overstep it. I made a bag for my first men’s show at Balenciaga, which was based on the classic Ikea bag. It was ironic but also authentic. I used the blue Ikea bag during my four years as a student in Antwerp, due to its size and its price. Fifty percent of all students had the same bag for the same reasons, When I did it at Balenciaga I recycled leather that the company had on stock from previous collections, and I finished it as a luxury product. I meant it as an ironic gesture in part, taking something really cheap and moving it into the luxury realm. But it’s authentic too, and that’s why it’s been all over the internet by now. People can relate.”

Demna Gvasalia in an interview with Business of Fashion.

Demna’s idea to appropriate clothing used in the late eighties and nineties by working classes of Europe isn’t anything particularly shocking. Designers tend to go through different moments in time, political environments or historic events whilst looking for inspiration. In the case of Balenciaga’s reinvention, the most surprising thing is Gvasalia’s consistency. It’s not like after one season of selling tired, high waisted jeans, he took an inspiration from the Olympics and sent models down the runway in swimming trunks. He fucking didn’t.

Post-soviet aesthetic became permanent for Balenciaga and remained a strong inspiration for Vetements. Designer himself is unlikely to name this inspiration in his interviews, or maybe I just wasn’t looking properly enough. But polish fashion journalist Michal Zaczynski in an article written for a London-based magazine said:

I dislike Vetements and Gosha Rubchinskiy. Same with that new Balenciaga under the direction of Demna Gvasalia. They remind me of everything that was the worst in the 90’s, and they’re unlikely to raise any nostalgic feelings in me.*

I guess you have to be from Eastern Europe to understand the “worst of the 90’s” part. Chunky trainers with ridiculously shaped soles made of many pieces of leather sewn together? Big ugly trainers like that? My teacher in primary school had a pair, worn with an almost square-shaped blue shirt, which looked like someone was making a computer game character that lacked most polygons. Men wearing casual blazers that were way too big? That was all they could get from second hand stores. You couldn’t just order your size online and wait for a DHL courier to deliver your parcel after 10 hours, like Amazon Prime.

I remember the popular Vetements sweatshirt my friend owned in 2016. Long, red with a slogan: May the Bridges I burn light the way. Everyone was obsessed with it. Dark, gothic, Tumblr-alternative vibe Demna Gvasalia created for Vetements is something I’d like to remember. Balenciaga reminds me of old furniture, drinking black coffee from transparent thin glasses, playing Pink Panther point and click adventure game on Windows 98 and wearing ugly grey sport sweaters because there was nothing else. And I’m not even from the eighties.

(*translated roughly from polish. The original English text not available at the time of writing this post, as the magazine’s website crashed)

Remembering Lee: few words about Alexander McQueen then and now.

“You dumb bitch”, I thought while talking to this white, privileged middle class born girl. I met her at one of the London Fashion Week afterparties. After going totally crazy and trying something she’s never done before (drinking beer, like, ugh, working class) she left her 6’5 tall boyfriend inside the pub alone with some Swiss models and went outside with me for a cigarette and a chat. “You know what, Thomas” she started, “I totally love TK Maxx. Once I found a blazer that looked totally like Balmain… I love Balmain…”. I had a quick look at her perfectly clean Gucci Ace Sneakers, brighter than my future, then at Zara uniform trainers I was wearing. “Yeah, I know what you mean…” I answered and slowly exhaled the smoke in the direction of her face.

I really wanted to buy my first designer pair of shoes, but I simply couldn’t afford it. I’m also not good at saving money – sorry, but I’m a boy who goes to Asda after work to buy a £40 champagne just because the work was tiring… With a price tag of good few hundred British pounds I knew I had to come up with some idea. I decided to quit my job then, as I wanted to get extra money for all the earned and unused holidays, in order to be able to purchase… £400 trainers.

Well. That job was shit anyway.

Alexander McQueen is a brand founded by Lee McQueen, Stratford boy with Scottish roots, accepted into Central St. Martins thanks to his unbelievable skills in cutting clothes. Son of a taxi driver, boy who dropped out of school to work as a tailor in Mayfair, later got accepted into one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world, became the artistic director of Givenchy and after leaving above mentioned house, created one of the most relevant modern fashion brands, owned by “The Gucci Group”, Kering.

One of the tutors at St. Martins, for the interview used in documentary “McQueen and I”, admitted not treating McQueen seriously at the time. No wonder, guy was the same age as students of the school. He got offered a place though, and started his new journey (hate that word) as a MA student of fashion design shortly after.

His first fashion shows were brilliant in their own rebellious and chaotic way. Often organised in old Warehouses or once, even in the actual church, left everyone shocked or even disgusted. Models with their boobs hanging out, sanitary towels, blood – a bit of hardcore porn, a bit of high culture…

Alexander McQueen was never a brand created just to make money. Lee’s collections, with time becoming more and more spectacular and theatrical, were always an honest representation of designer’s feelings, personal demons or views on certain things. With brand getting more recognition (and financial freedom), as much as fashion shows becoming more expensive, McQueen’s label got associated with its own permanent aesthetic – dark British romanticism.

After designer’s tragic death in February 2010, just few days before his own mother’s funeral, Sarah Burton who had worked with McQueen over the years, became brand’s new creative director. Keeping the influences more or less where they were and should stay. Post-McQueen McQueen includes a lot of royal embroidery, sharp tailoring, death symbolism and melancholic references. All of that served with a decent dose of punk energy.

Plato’s Atlantis, which is the name of last collection Lee McQueen designed, is often described as his absolute best. Armadillo shoes that Lady Gaga wore in her Bad Romance video, together with bell dress are two of many pieces that will stay with us forever.

McQueen once said that he’d like to be remembered as the one who started 21st century in fashion. In my opinion though, with his disappearance, the artistic, wild and rebellious part of the game also faded away.

God save the Queen

God save McQueen

Gucci or Prada? What are the differences between two Italian fashion giants?

“It’s time for this brand to tell another story.” Said Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s current creative director during his interview for New York Times. Charismatic man that seems like Gandalf or Dumbledore mixed with an impressionist artist, just like Monet, paints his dreamy, colourful and bohemian visions on the canvas of current fashion world. At the same time, Miuccia Prada, 68-year old granddaughter of – back then – just a luggage company’s founder Mario Prada, sends legions of serious looking boys and girls down the runway in their nylon jumpsuits and futuristic sneakers.

“I left home at 18, which is very strange for Italians, because we’re very attached to our families(…)” said former Givenchy creative director, Riccardo Tisci. This sentence really makes sense when you look at big Italian fashion houses that still rule the world today. Prada is one of the brands that kept their business in the family, without any external directors being involved. Founded as a luggage company by Mario Prada in 1913, eventually ended up in his granddaughter’s hands in 1978. Ever since then, Prada company kept on changing and evolving, at the same time staying loyal to its unique aesthetic.

That has not always been the case with Gucci though. Since the death of company’s founder in 1953 the brand had many creative directors, including Tom Ford. Despite being one of the most important names in fashion, Gucci changed its vibe many times in the past, most recently transforming from kitschy, stereotypically luxurious designs to dreamy, nature inspired pop story with a royal vintage finish.

Prada

Unlike the most of Italian brands, Prada’s style is NOT about obvious sexiness. While Donatella Versace’s team throws another tight, silky red dress with golden details at some terrified Eastern European model and yells: wear it!!! Be a strrrrrong woman, Prada keeps doing her thing. Brand’s collections often include blacks, whites and beiges, as well as futuristic shapes and synthetic fabrics. It’s Miuccia Prada that started using military quality grade nylon to produce bags, in order to innovate how we look at luxury.

Mrs Prada admits to dislike snobbery. Most of her designs don’t include an obvious reference to brand’s logo. At the same time though, you can’t walk past a person wearing something Gucci, without thinking: “Oh, wow, isn’t that Gucci that belt over there? I’m such a poor fuck”. Insects, butterflies, red snakes, cartoon ghosts, GG monogram… there are so many symbols that scream Gucci immediately, while at the same time, Prada is more about reversed snobbery, making luxury recognisable for only those who belong to so called elite and know the specific aesthetics.

Picture of Miuccia Prada

Because of non aggressive branding, themed designs Prada comes up with every season often get copied by high street brands without general public noticing the similarities. For example Zara’s current collection featuring pages of comic books printed on garments like shirts and tops is a direct copy of Prada spring/summer 2018 collection.

Prada:

Zara:

I am not saying Gucci doesn’t get copied. It does, at least twice more often. But general, Zara and H&M consuming public is more aware of how Gucci stuff looks like, while more old school luxury stays, well, old school, that actually stands for: unknown.

Unlike the boy who went to the moon and never came back, I mean Alessandro Michele, Miuccia Prada doesn’t consider fashion an art. “My job is to sell” she says. And, well, she does sell a lot. Despite her pieces being often impractical or just pure strange, Miuccia’s net worth is 6.8 billion dollars, which makes her the richest female designer alive.

Gucci

The man who brought WAG’s favourite brand back to life – Alessandro Michele. At the beginning of his journey with Gucci, Michele was asked to design a replacement ready to wear collection in just five days.

He hasn’t been creating for Gucci for long, but already managed to come up with brand’s most recognisable image so far, and I’m not afraid to say that. And come on, his work helped him with making friends with Jared Leto and Lana Del Rey.

Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele

Despite being amazing at sales and designing wallets every gal and lad want, from Portsmouth to Stirling, Alessandro is responsible of some weird phenomenon, something I call high fashion appropriation.

Current Gucci is like a smoothie made of The Great Gatsby, fantasy stuff like World of Warcraft, 17th century’s aristocratic style, Rae Sremmurd, Supreme and a headache. From already iconic pieces like Ace sneakers or t shirts with a fake logo, to more extravagant outerwear and colourful knitwear. Alessandro Michele’s usage of colours is like a village girl on the prom night – good intentions, diamond heart, trying her best, excited and passionate… but the final effect – not necessarily good.

Gucci’s policy when it comes to brand reception is completely different from Prada’s. For them, the more people talk, the better. Even if those people are not the real customers. Hip hop kids? Let’s go! Gucci Gang? Whatever that means! Belgian hipsters hungry for some dope specs and green Alice in Wonderland wool coat? Let’s give them that? Rappers wanting to look like they just shot 5 people outside their mansion? Why not!

Don’t get me wrong. Michele is a genius of his kind that makes pretty things and most importantly – does his job very well. One word: revenue.