Demna Gvasalia is a young Georgian fashion designer with a brilliant career, culminating in his appointment as Balenciaga creative director after the departure of Alexander Wang and the recent nomination as 2016 Person of the Year by Business of Fashion.
Demna youth however was anything but easy. When he was only twelve, he had to escape from Sukhumi – his birthplace that was invaded – and trespass the Caucasus Mountains. With his parents and brother he settles then in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Here Demna studies where oriented to a future in banking, as planned by the father, but his heart was far away. When he and the family finally moved to Düsseldorf, Demna regrets his degree in economics and decided to shift to fashion studies.
The fashion roots were already bloomed in the family and in Demna’s mind; his maternal grandmother is reported being quite a character, always wearing high-heels despite the age and bizarre clothing that she customizes by herself.
Demna enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp under the tutelage of Linda Loppa, the legendary teacher who had taught the so-called Antwerp Six. The same university has seen within its walls also Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester.
Yet during his early academic career, Gvasalia is often rewarded for his creativity. Nevertheless his career took off only after university. In 2004 he won the first place as best emerging designers at ITS – International Talent Support contest. In 2007 he debuts at Tokyo Fashion Week with his first collection. From the first catwalk to full success, Gvasalia road is already defined. A road that passes by well-known European brands but that is born in the stream of Eastern Europe designers now populating the scene with own independent Fashion weeks like those in Kiev and Tbilisi.
In 2010 Gvasalia enters in former Maison Martin Margiela style department, where he remained until 2012 as womenswear senior designer. His avant-garde style was immediately so noticed to soon made him considered the “spiritual son” of Margiela, the founder who had just left when he arrived.
Working at Margiela leaves a strong mark in Gvasalia style, leading him to appreciate team working and the whole equipe involvement in the stylistic choices, from the creative director himself to the model. Such collaborative working way will become one of his style hallmarks.
In 2012 Louis Vuitton hired Gvasalia as senior designer of women’s ready-to-wear.
However, it’s 2014 that marked the turning point. His past, soaked by Eastern Europe conflicts and divisions, the Parisian culturally mixed atmosphere of Eleventh Arrondissement, packed with young people, but also the widespread frustration shared with friends and young designers working in the fashion industry led him to establish a new brand that could be an expression of present-day world.
Gvasalia, due to his past, was able to intercept the wishes of such generation of amorphous and migrating young people, an underculture low represented into traditional fashion, in which they do not feel represented. At first a few hours stolen in a small flat to share their ideas, waiting to be able to afford more, let the idea of Vetements took shape.
Vetements rather than a brand is a project shared by a creative collective of seven designers who initially remained anonymous because they were all working for other fashion labels. Moreover the aim behind the brand- starting by its own name – was to focus the attention on clothes instead of the designer or the label and to change Paris high couture fashion world. Vetements is an alternative brand that get inspiration from streetwear and re-imagine such trends with a very deconstructionist designs.
Later on Gvasalia stepped out to reveal himself as the spokes-person as well as the primary designer of Vetements, without ever losing the very strong collaborative ethos that sets it apart.
Under his leadership the new label lands to Paris catwalks in 2014. Moreover the extremely innovative features of this project have led Vetements among the finalists of 2015 LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize.
In October 2015 François-Henri Pinault, CEO and chairman of the conglomerate Kering, decide to entrust Gvasalia the artistic directorship at Balenciaga. The news perplexing fashion system: Demna wass not among the plethora of the most discussed designers and the news was whispered along the front row of every major show during Paris Fashion Week. However Gvasalia proves immediately himself suited to the role, as demonstrated by the success and the enthusiastic reactions to the first two runway collections.
Gvasalia has been able to attract a younger audience, thanks to a strong branding strategy on accessories and accessible items collections. On the other side – regarding high fashion – Gvasalia and Cristobal Balenciaga styles are not as opposed as they might seem, they both share an unusual beauty ideal-, which goes beyond the pure aesthetic canon.
Balenciaga was used to choose particular models. The editor of Vogue Bettina Ballard in her memoires In My Fashion states: ‘He has never made clothes on pretty or soft-looking girls’, indeed someone refers to such models as ‘monsters’.
The greatest innovation introduced by Gvasalia in Balenciaga comes from his ability to subvert the established codes: he is indeed capable of using daily elements or ordinary fabrics in different contexts, which normally do not belong to them, to create an unexpected result.
Despite the exceptional role in a major fashion house, Gvasalia doesn’t forget his own project and decided to stay in charge of both Balenciaga and Vetements creative direction. Indeed he has never hide his commitment to Vetements, a labels which sometimes he refers at as a project for a lifetime.
No wonder that a personality like Gvasalia has been chosen by Business of Fashion as Person of the Year in 2016. Who more than him may be the most influential figure in the fashion industry, with such double bond between East and West, between young and classic?