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Models present creations by designer Demna Gvasalia during Athens Fashion Week, October 10, 2008.
Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis
Demna Gvasalia’s clothes are about to step out of the dark.
NEW GARDE

Balenciaga’s new creative director is a radical, underground designer

By Marc Bain

Just a few days ago, on Oct. 2, Alexander Wang showed his final collection for Balenciaga. The news had emerged in late July that Wang would step down as the label’s creative director, leaving the question of who would take his spot.

The answer is Demna Gvasalia. Balenciaga’s parent company, Kering, announced the news today (Oct. 7).

Gvasalia’s name probably doesn’t mean much to the average person, or maybe even to the average Balenciaga shopper yet, but it’s huge news inside the fashion industry. At 34, the German national of Georgian origin already heads up the young Paris-based design collective Vetements. In just a few seasons of existence, this label has become arguably the coolest brand in fashion, with an image that is tawdry, gritty, and practically the opposite of high-end luxury.

Vetements’ clothes routinely feature cartoonishly oversized proportions, such as linebacker shoulders or overlong, straitjacket sleeves, and can be deliberately garish. Take, for instance, the apron-dress made from plasticized tablecloth in the group’s most recent collection.

Frequently they’re cut apart and stitched back together, or made from reworked vintage finds. The brand’s jeans, which are assembled from old denim that the designers hunt down, are already an object of obsession. Even at well over $1,000 per pair, they sell out.

Now Gvasalia is taking over one of the most coveted jobs in luxury fashion, effective today according to the release. His first collection for the brand will debut at next season’s fall-winter shows in Paris.

The aura of cigarette smoke and cheap beer in the back of a seedy club at 4am that seems to cling to Gvasalia’s work at Vetements is hard to imagine at sleek, controlled Balenciaga. But Gvasalia is capable of working beyond it; an industry veteran, he has previously served as the senior designer of women’s ready-to-wear at Louis Vuitton, which is serious luxury. Before that, he worked for years under designer Martin Margiela.

In fact, Gvasalia has been repeatedly dubbed Margiela’s spiritual successor. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that renegade, experimental Margiela is also the guy who designed a Hermès double band so popular it’s now being sold on Apple watches.