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VETEMENTS OR VEBLEN?

February 13, 2017

The philosophical debate of what something is worth and why has always interested me.


Vetements or “clothes” in French, is a new high-fashion brand developed by Demna Gvasalia and his brother, Guram. Demna has said himself “I would not pay retail for my own clothing”, a pretty confusing statement for the creative director/founder to say regarding his own brand.

What is this number, you ask? $900 for a cotton “deconstructed” Champion hoodie. How much for an black Easpak backpack with a Vetements tag on it? $570. Socks? $85. 

 

Unsurprisingly, this type of marketing and questionable desire for brands has existed for a very long time. Economist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class, an excerpt on “conspicuous consumption as a mode of status seeking”. In his writing, Veblen discusses goods which are desired simply for what they represent. Marketers and brand representatives that he interviews state consumers would not be interested any longer in their products if they discounted them. In fact, what drives the consumer’s desire may in fact be the price itself. These goods would later become known as “veblen goods”. 

 

 

Vetements is arguably the epitome of veblen goods in our today’s fashion marketplace. Champion hoodies, EastPak backpacks, and Reebok sneakers - all considered to be at the lower tier of fashion have been made (through the Veblen effect of Vetements) known as the highest-fashion, most limited edition clothing on the luxury fashion market. Canada Goose, which is known as the mainstream “lower-high end” winter jacket, collaborated with Vetements in their most recent collection. Vetements (presumably tongue-and-cheek) made it their most expensive piece, at $3,690 USD. A collaboration with Juicy Couture is in the works.

 

Demna says the inspiration for his collection comes from the fashionista’s desire to wear a Champion hoodie and sweatpants to fashion shows. By deconstructing a simple heather grey hoodie and putting a new label on it, suddenly a Champion hoodie is worth 900$ and the most desired piece of clothing by the fashion world’s top icons.

 

As much as you may find this ridiculous (maybe even sickening), Vetements in my opinion is pure genius. Demna has single handedly made us realize from a philosophical standpoint how irrationally we act as consumers. Yeah, sure - a handmade pair of fine Italian leather Rick Owens boots are more bang-for-your-buck then a pair of $450 rubber Vetements x Reebok sneakers - but the idea here is that the ultimate price is based on status (and what we’re willing to pay for it). 

Demna was named new creative director of Balenciaga the first week of October, taking over the highly regarded seat of Alexander Wang. Wang did an incredible job rebranding Balenciaga, turning it from a traditional French fashion house into the contemporary powerhouse that it is today. It will be interesting to see how Demna further transforms the brand, most likely staying true to his intent of making us realize that at the end of the day, it’s just clothes.

 

 

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