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Vetements finds inspiration in Dutch photo project, Exactitudes

How 'ordinary' is turning back into fashion

We're used to seeing pieces based on 'ordinary' garments from designer Demna Gvasalia, whether it's for Balenciaga or for his own label, Vetements. In fact, sometimes they're pieces that a fashion-minded audience would never have given a second glance, that is until recently. And now some stereotypical, 'old Dutch' apparel has even made its way into the latest Vetements collection. Gvasalia was actually even inspired in part by a Dutch photography project.

Polder style

Who would've thought that a popular fashion label would take the style (or lack thereof) of the average Dutch suburban supermarket shopper and elevate it to true fashion? "“It was dress codes,” Gvasalia told Vogue US. “When I started university, my most preferred subject was sociology, so I think this season was a bit of an outburst of that: social uniforms and how people dress." And many of the 'types' that turned up in the show seemed to have walked straight out of 'Exactitudes,' a project from Dutch photographer Ari Versluis and stylist Ellie Uyttenbroek. The designer didn’t limit himself to our polder style, his collection reflected a wide range of subcultures, including 'Donna Decaffeinato', homeboys and Reli-rockers. 

Exactitudes

Rotterdam natives Versluis and Uyttenbroek said in an interview with NRC that they'd met Gvasalia previously and that the designer was fascinated by their work, even then. Versluis and Uyttenbroek have been taking and collecting portraits of stereotypes within our society since 1994, under the name 'Exactitudes': a portmanteau of exact and attitudes. It's a name which indicates that expression of identity and dress codes within subcultures are analogous and classifying. If you want to be part of a group, you have to keep to their codes for appearance as much as is possible. The Rotterdam duo's anthropological portrait collection has been published and exhibited around the world and the book version is now in its sixth printing. 

Own interpetation

Gvasalia ordered several of those books and Vetements recently presented a collection of 'ordinary' clothes in Paris' Centre Pompidou – with a custom detail or silhouette here and there – worn by models matching the stereotypes. The Milanese 'Bourgeoise' with blown out gray hair, sunglasses and a fur coat (made from two second-hand furs), the British office worker in his mousy grey suit, the Dutch 'polder woman' with short hair and a yellow windbreaker, punks with oversized spiked hair and a leather ensemble spray painted with slogans, and a middle-aged man in corduroy trousers and a woolen jumper. It was Demna Gvasalia's interpretation of 'Exactitudes'. 

Zeitgeist

In that same interview, Versluis encapsulated what Gvasalia has done: "What Gvasalia is doing with Vetements represents the zeitgeist. He's mapping out how complicated social identity is in a complex urban environment. The starting point for fashion – the exclusive, the thing that differentiates it from just clothes – he's turned that upside down in his new collection. He's challenging individualism." According to Vogue's Suzy Menkes, the underlying idea is subversive and one of social unrest: "Now that Donald Trump is in the White House in America, treating the fashion world as if it were reality TV looks positively clairvoyant." And it comes out in subtle, satirical details. For example, the tramp whose sweater is falling to pieces, but carries the flag of the European Union. Or the small cards – reproductions of identity cards from various countries – that served as invitations. For Gvasalia and his team, "it was just fun because we like to play around with the invitations." But given current immigration issues, the fun is bumping up against the reality. 

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