That’s what makes Demna Gvasalia tick

Nothing prepared Gvasalia for his current rise the way his early years did, growing up in Georgia during a time of civil war. “When I was 12, during the war, when I was trying to survive in the Caucasus mountains, I saw corpses of people who had been killed, pictures that I wish no one would ever see, and even less when I was a child. When you’ve seen this at an early age, money, fame, and all the fashion don’t really matter. At the time, I actually had something to lose: my life. Born in 1981 into a large Georgian-Russian family, Gvasalia grew up in an Orthodox Christianity surrounded by Soviet aesthetics and women with a flair for dramatic black outfits. He attributes his desire to create to his maternal grandmother. “She dressed so personal when I was a kid and is probably still the most eccentric person I know.” When war broke out in 1993, his family first fled their hometown of Sukhumi for Tbilisi, before settling in Düsseldorf when Gvasalia was 21. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 2006, Gvasalia spent four years training in the design team. at Maison Margiela and a little over a year at Louis Vuitton; he also credits his decision to study international business as a lasting influence on his “product and customer oriented” approach to design, even though he hated economics.

“I’ve always felt like an outsider,” he says, noting that this has extended to difficulties with his own self-image. “Everywhere I have lived since I was 12, I am an outsider. I was a refugee in my own country before moving to Germany and Belgium, where I was very aware of being a foreigner. No one knew where Georgia was. I come from a country that people cannot even locate on a map. Then came to live in Paris, which can be so xenophobic, and it escalated into a real identity crisis. I didn’t know where I belonged; it kept me in a black hole of depression and anger. He misses his country of origin deeply, but “my uncle threatened to kill me if I set foot on Georgian soil. He’s a homophobe, and I’m embarrassed about his last name, ”says Gvasalia. “I’ve spent years working to be good with who I am, and I don’t want to deal with the trauma that resurfaces if I go back.”

Since 2017, Gvasalia lived in the Swiss countryside with her husband, the French musician and composer Loïck Gomez, and their two dogs. The couple first met face-to-face in London in 2016 (“March 26,” Gvasalia recalls), though they had met and had been communicating online for months. “I knew I was going to meet someone who was going to change my life,” he says of his trip from Paris to meet Gomez. “And that was it. We have never separated since that day. Their relationship was initially filled with party nights – “we had a pretty night-time lifestyle,” he says – but four years ago the couple gave up drinking and since then have looked elsewhere for the adrenaline. “We drive through the forest with the blasting bass,” says Gvasalia. “It’s our way of going to a club now.” That the manufacturers of his electric car did not imagine an engine that lasts more than 70 kilometers is, he says, “a nightmare”. Gomez is also present on the podium of Balenciaga; under his artist nickname BFRND, he’s been composing the music for all of Balenciaga’s shows since fall 2017. Otherwise, their life together mainly includes cooking (“mostly vegan these days”); listen to “tons of hip-hop and drill, hard techno, indie rock like Radiohead and sometimes bad Russian pop”; and Netflix “trash” (he won’t say what: “It’s too embarrassing”).

Each month, Gvasalia spends a week in Paris, where he keeps a modest apartment near the Bois de Boulogne. He sees trees through his window and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, but is far enough away from “all this French fashion madness” that he has come to feel. Haussmannian architecture still makes him “claustrophobic”, but moving to Switzerland helped him fall in love with this city again. “I’m like Emily in Paris noticing all these beautiful things,” he said, perhaps letting out guilty pleasure. (Not for nothing, Stunned described the main character’s transformation as “a basic bitch in Balenciaga.”) “When I lived there I was too busy being negative.”

The designer’s new balance came from his hard work to exorcise some of his inner demons: there are weekly sessions with a life coach, meditating regularly, and in general, leading a healthier lifestyle. These changes brought creative clarity with them, he says: “Fashion seemed like a battle for me, which is why there was a lot of aggression and darkness in what I was doing. Today, I feel at peace with the system ”, even if it still relishes some creative torments. “I’m a bit of a fashion masochist, I don’t like it when things are too easy,” he says. And he remains an exceptionally practical designer: “I’m really the scissors and pins type. The experience of working on a garment, cutting it, cutting it, adjusting it and turning it, seeing it in all its glory in 3D, is what I love most about fashion.

Eliza Douglas, the American artist and sometimes model who opened most of Balenciaga’s shows under Gvasalia, describes her way of working as composed, committed and humbly generous. “Despite his position of extreme influence and pressure, it still impresses me how calm and calm he is,” she said. “He doesn’t act like he’s more important than others.”

Gvasalia and Douglas.Photographs by Juergen Teller; Stylized by Jan-Michael Quammie.

If until no It’s been a long time since Balenciaga’s universe was populated with anonymous types rather than identifiable personalities, in 2020 the house began projecting its vision onto some of today’s biggest names in film, pop culture and music. In typical Gvasalia fashion, the foray into the world of stardom has been cerebral, intuitive, and comprehensive, evident in brand advertising and extending to those who are more famous for being famous than anything else. Namely, at this year’s Met Gala, only one contestant stood out with the shock of her look: Kim Kardashian West, wrapped head to toe in custom Balenciaga black. Even her face, perhaps the most photographed face of our time, was covered in black so that she appeared as a lively cutout from her distinctive figure. It was awesome and kind of logical: what does a person do who came to this event showing everything and more to stay ahead of the game? The author of the sartorial non-declaration was Gvasalia, who accompanied Kardashian West in a complementary (albeit a little less fitted) disguise, her first time dressing someone up for the gala. “I’m going to reveal a secret to you,” the creator tells me when he calls me a week after the event. “The outfit I wore at the Met was exactly the one I had traveled to New York in from Zurich in. I literally slept in it on the plane. I only added a face mask.

Despite his growing comfort with his appearance, he didn’t want to be confronted with images of himself that he didn’t like. “You can never get rid of visuals once they’re on the Internet,” he says. “I had to feel comfortable, and the way I did it was to be invisible.”

The refusal to live up to expectations was also a retort to the current celebrity dress rules. “For me, fashion should be the same on the red carpet or in my kitchen when I’m cooking. Otherwise, it becomes a costume. I always want to be like who I am. It was the opposite of what the Met Ball is: fame, to be seen, everyone knows who you are. (Respect for portability is a course of action, regardless of glamor: “The clothes he designs are incredibly easy to wear,” Huppert explains. “A spectacular evening dress he made for me was as comfortable as it was. ‘a T-shirt.”)

The experience summed up his anxious ambivalence around identity and his incessant questioning. As they left the hotel for the Met with their faces wrapped up, spectators shouted “Who are you?” At the designer. “I thought to myself, that’s such a good question: who am I? Why am I still here? He remembers. “It was hilarious going to this event with everyone’s Kim as a prom date, both as shadows of our silhouettes. It said something about the celebrity paradox, especially in America. How fashion is. featured through fame. (Plus, he met Kris.)

Gvasalia’s entry into the inner sanctum of the Kardashians came through not quite Kim’s ex-husband, Kanye West, a champion of Gvasalia’s labor since Vetements days. The friends recently collaborated on the artistic direction of the release events of West’s latest album, Donda. (West, not by chance, has been using face masks for years, inspired by Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela, to whom Gvasalia is often compared.)

Strangely, just when I ask how two men with such strong visions relate to each other, Gvasalia’s phone rings. This is the West. “We have this constant exchange of images,” explains Gvasalia. “There are very few people I know, especially of this caliber, who really understand what I do. It takes me out of my comfort zone and becomes a better designer. And he does it beautifully. There is no ego, ”he says, just“ a mutual willingness to evolve and do something big and new. This is what unites us.

Uniting – visions, products, people, genres – is the key to understanding Gvasalia’s project at Balenciaga. If presenting both Cardi B and Huppert in Balenciaga’s commercials seems like an iconoclastic cast, that’s the point. “The diversity of the characters is meant to show how vast Balenciaga is as it becomes a global brand,” he said. (Her celebrity on the to-do list: Sade, the British Nigerian singer. “It’s the soundtrack of my life. I grew up listening to it. In any situation, happy or dark, I always put Sade on and I end up in my zone. “)

A few weeks after the Met Gala, for the Balenciaga summer 2022 show during Paris Fashion Week, Gvasalia pushed her exploration of realistic representation, the primordial economy of the image, the pose and our breathless adulation of the famous to its most meta-progression. The creator has created a mock show that regularly takes place outside of movie premieres, awards shows, and galas from Cannes to LA. the models (also a mix of celebrities and civilians) took turns walking a red carpet lined with paparazzi; the inventive point of view of a parade was Gvasalia peak: witty, gripping, bewildering. The New York Times critic Vanessa Friedman called it “the smartest show of the week,” the Fashion businessby Tim Blanks “glorious” and “totally Warholian”. It was also a lot of fun.

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