Brand Loyalty is a column that explores one person’s obsession with a brand, silhouette, garment, or color—like Kristen Stewart embracing Outdoor Voices, Pharrell’s Vivenne Westwood hat, or Young Thug’s love for blouses.
During a very long ago and more innocent moment called September 2015, Kanye West had just shown his second season of Yeezy and, at the VMA’s few days before, announced his intention to run for president in 2020. A few hours after his fashion show, he sat down with Dirk Standen for an interview that ran on Vanity Fair, and was asked if there were any new designers “impressing” him. “As far as the new designers go, everybody knows who’s everyone’s favorite,” West said. “I told you. You remember, I was like this is the one, and that shit fucking blew up right. It’s like the No 1. Everyone’s waiting on it.”
“You’re talking about Vetements,” Standen said, referring to the Demna Gvasalia-led fashion collective responsible for fashion’s obsession with $800 hoodies and post-ironic graphics. “It’s true. You went to the showroom after their first collection and you showed me the pictures on your phone, before anyone was talking about it. And then their second collection just went boom.”
This was a month before Gvasalia was named as the creative director at Balenciaga, succeeding Alexander Wang. It’s hard to remember, now that Gvasalia has basically taken over the world, but at the time, even dedicated followers of fashion didn’t really know who he was. Upon Gvasalia’s appointment at the French fashion house, The New York Times called him “a relative unknown.”
But by the time of Gvasalia’s Balenciaga announcement, West had been publicly plugging Vetements for almost a year. In a rare move for a celebrity, especially one who takes fashion as seriously as West, he had been wearing one of the first Vetements sweatshirts—a black oversized hoodie with the brand’s name in a heavy metal typeface—over and over again. At Paris Fashion Week in March 2015, he wore it two days in a row, most famously on the way into the Dior show (Raf Simons’s penultimate!), where he posed with Lorde, the two of them glaring like sage goth overlords. He was perhaps the brand’s best customer and almost certainly their best advertiser, making their off-beat, very giant clothing recognizable to a mass audience who had probably barely heard of Margiela, the brand for which Gvasalia and his seven anonymous designers had also worked, and to whom Vetements owes both an aesthetic and ideological debt. In fact, West even hired Gvasalia work as a designer on Yeezy Season 1, which he’d shown earlier that year to extremely mixed reviews.
Meme hoodies and big proportions are now part of every designer’s lingua franca, perhaps to the point of exhaustion, but looking back, West’s sweatshirt feels incredibly cool and fresh: it sits on his shoulders with the elegance of a well-made opera coat, and the sleeves bunch and hang over his hands in just the right way. It looks killer with his black jeans and Yeezy desert boots. The thing about fashion that blows up overnight is that it tends to look extremely dumb and bad as time goes on, but West’s look is a total classic. Far from appearing lazy (sorry, Karl Lagerfeld), those early Vetements pieces were a genius way to look avant-garde and comfortable. You weren’t shoehorning yourself into a top that’s shaped like a skirt, or whatever. Looking back at West’s Vie en Vetements, you don’t see a bunch of dated looks. You see why hoodies became the defining high fashion garment in the years that followed. You see that West understood that fashion would spend the next four years consumed with a complete reconsideration of what luxury means.
We think a lot about Virgil Abloh as the Kanye West acolyte who grew to overshadow his mentor, but Gvasalia was also one of the early talents spotted by West who blew up in part because of West’s support, and then breezed past him to unbelievably huge things. As West told Charlamagne Tha God during his insane May 2018 interview, Abloh and Jerry Lorenzo also worked on that first Yeezy collection with him and Gvasalia. With that in mind, it really seems that the public opinion of West’s position in the fashion industry—that he takes himself too seriously, —doesn’t quite match up to his actual influence. Whatever else we might say about Kanye, he’s long demonstrated an ability to identify significant design talent and to pinpoint the direction of major industry changes. As fashion legends from Isabella Blow to Miguel Adrover know, the earliest talent-spotters don’t often get the credit they deserve. Maybe that’s why he’s been hanging out with Gvasalia muse Lotta Volkova lately.