Culture, Fashion

On Vetements and the Dissemination of Style in Pop Culture

By Anay Katyal

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This Grailed listing came to my attention a few months back. It purports the idea that there’s some man on this God-forsaken planet who briefly considered — and justified — advertising what is essentially a delivery man’s uniform for $700. It’s an insane markup from an already whopping base-price of $330. All things considered, unless you’re a rabid fan of German logistics companies, it’s probably fair to say that Vetements’ three hundred dollar walking billboard is largely out of reach for most people. But in the hellscape that is high fashion, our famed tee in question is plastered all over Instagram, sold out in stores across the world, and is inspiring thousands of indulgently self-loathing hypebeasts to raid DHL’s own corporate store for a small piece of fleeting cultural relevancy. But what does it all mean?

Vetements bears the brunt of its criticism on the backs of their consistently farcical creative decisions. Among some of their more outré offerings are “standouts” such as a $924 tee emblazoned with the face of a young Snoop Dogg — a tee that happens to be a virtual copy of old Death Row Records promotional merchandise from 1993. Another favorite is their over-sized sweatshirt, a piece that happens to be a favorite among the “white suburbanites who say ‘fam’ too often” crowd after Kanye was seen sporting it. The label’s own CEO thinks artificial scarcity is the only true pathway to luxury, and the its designer publicly admits that even he wouldn’t pay full price for his own clothes. I’m convinced that if Vetements isn’t running a con on the fashion world, it’s in the very least running an Andy Kaufman-esque joke on its patrons.

It’s not as if I have a bone to pick with Vetements themselves (or any label functioning in a similar vein). If anything, I laud them. No matter the reason of origin of their DHL tee — whether it be consumerist commentary, a practical joke, or a master manipulation of the hype machine — people bought the fucking thing. It made the label money. There was a hustle to be had, and had it was. The problem lies not with the tee, but the fact that it was a successfully marketable item in the first place. The problem lies not with the shirt’s spawning, but with those who drove the shirt’s commercial availability to extinction.

While high fashion has its history with the reappropriation of corporate imagery, flipping drab, token symbols of our everyday lives and recontextualizing them as anarchist commentaries on the ills of consumerism and capitalism (among other things), Vetements finds itself riding a shaky line between what is considered art and what is the gamification of a vapid cultural framework today’s youth are hostages of — and it’s we, as consumers, tipping that scale in the wrong direction, to boot.

With all that being said, who’s to blame for this apparent descension toward absurdity that’s gripped the fashion world? Most of the criticism thrown Vetements’ way is largely about the mockery it’s made of fashion’s old guard and all it has accomplished — but what’s to be said about Vetements garnering success as fervently as its predecessors (with far less earnest wares)? Rather than bastardizing the fundamental conventions of the fashion world, has Vetements figured out the fundamental crux of what’s wrong with fashion? With popular culture? Is what they peddle as “fashion” actually the ultimate talisman of “anti-fashion,” with Vetements revoltingly dismembering the system from inside itself?

Whatever the label’s own intrinsic intentions may be, its disposition in the fashion world is telling of a more important facet of the problem it has illustrated. Having reached a point where participants in “the culture” are so used to being spoonfed ideas as to what is deserving of fame and hype, mindless trash like Vetements’ wares have been able to take over fashion’s airwaves. There is no modern day intelligentsia giving them their time on the stage or any real credibility to sway. It’s the collective group of consumers that both peddles these goods and consumes them without question. In providing an opportunity for brand clout to speak over craftsmanship, we jeopardize the dignity of fashion as an artform. It’s a jeopardy of art in itself. We choose to value social sway over the merit of craft. We giveth, we taketh away. We’re the snake that eats itself.

Anay Katyal is a Chicago native and current Style Editor at The Michigan Daily. He’s studying to be a lawyer but isn’t currently legally fit to drive himself to a courtroom.