PARIS • If the appointment of Demna Gvasalia, 34, the upstart designer of Vetements, as artistic director of Balenciaga was the surprise of the last Paris fashion season, it has been the toast of this most recent one.
His debut collection for the landmark French label was met with raves from nearly every corner.
The all-white cast of models received harsher reviews, especially online. Asked about the matter, Gvasalia declined to address it directly, saying, in part: "What does attitude look like? Is it in the body, the clothes, the mind?"
Balenciaga, formerly stewarded by American designer Alexander Wang, was in need of a refresh. Gvasalia - born in Sukhumi, Georgia; trained in Antwerp, Belgium; and an alumnus of Maison Martin Margiela and Louis Vuitton - provided it.
In short order, he has shot from an unknown to a man in high demand, dividing his time among two collections and the demands of a new swarm of interested retailers, members of the media and fans.
He arrived at the Balenciaga office to discuss his work, his Paris shows last week and the early reaction to his first designs.
It has been 24 hours since the Balenciaga show. How are you feeling now?
I'm starting to feel the exhaustion, actually. I worked on two shows in four days. It was so much adrenaline and so much excitement, I didn't really feel tired. Now I'm starting to feel that.
At Vetements, I asked you if you were feeling the pressure and you said: "No, I love it. It's like a drug."
It is. I'm starting to feel depressed today, I think. It wasn't really pressure. It was the dynamic of every day doing this thing. The last 10 days, every single day I worked on a show. From Thursday to Thursday, then it was Vetements.
Then I said, how lucky I am that there is the Balenciaga show coming on Sunday. It's not over yet. I felt like I want more. That's why I put that song at the end of the show - More by Sisters Of Mercy.
Was there ever a question of not doing both?
For me, no. The question was how.
Tell me about your relationship to Balenciaga before you arrived.
Everything I knew about Balenciaga was linked to the fashion history books where I saw those amazing, beautiful pieces that he created, but I didn't know much more than that. But the things that I discovered when I went... when I started to read about Cristobal and his way of working and then I saw the archives - what I discovered was actually his business vision.
Is that how you think of yourself as a designer - as productoriented?
I'm completely product-oriented. I only design and I only make clothes in order for them to be worn by someone, meaning that they have to be sold. It's never done for the show or to be in a museum or anything like this. There is no point to make pieces for the show because there is no point.
People need to be able to go to the store in six months and find what they have seen.
Do you think you are well understood?
There were quite a lot of people who came backstage after the show and told me: "I want to buy that. I want to wear that." That's the biggest compliment, I think, and that's for me the most important thing.
In terms of the way I work, I'm not sure that I'm fully understood. But that's because I'm extremely technical in my design approach and, at the same time, extremely commercial and product-oriented.
It's not about creating the dream or theatrics or making a "beautiful show". It's probably pragmatic and boring, the way I approach it all, but that's the way I am.
Was there a lot that was rejected from the show, a lot we didn't see?
The only part that we didn't really show is the wardrobe part, Le Garderobe. It's a capsule that I started this season, which includes very, very classic wardrobe pieces such as a normal trench coat with a perfect fit, slim pants, all the classics. These will be available continuously.
When I read what's been written about your work, the word that comes up often is "underground". I'm curious how you feel about that.
This whole underground thing... people brand you as "underground" if you make a show in a sex club. It's underground - for Paris. Because Paris has been kind of stagnant for a very long time. I think it's about a certain mood and energy, that underground label.
I don't consider myself underground. I go to squalid parts outside of Paris, but that doesn't make me underground. It's just my lifestyle. I think underground, itself, is over. It doesn't really exist today.
I'm completely product-oriented. I only design and I only make clothes in order for them to be worn by someone, meaning that they have to be sold.
DEMNA GVASALIA artistic director of Balenciaga and upstart designer of Vetements, on his designs, including the latest collection for Balenciaga (top and left) at Paris Fashion Week
I wonder if that term effectively takes away from the amount of technique and design in your work - whether it becomes a way to dismiss it as, "Well, that's just a hoodie".
The hoodie is a very complex garment, I would say. In my last show in Vetements, I did a hoodie. When it arrived and I saw it on the hanger, I told my team: "What is that hoodie? It looks like Uniqlo or whatever."
I really forgot what we did with it. But when you put it on, with the hood on, the whole thing moves up. It gives you that attitude. That kind of easy twist, something very simple that makes it a basic, almost mainstream hoodie into an almost attitude garment, that's the challenge today.
That was exactly the way I approached this collection.
Do you think there's a flavour of Paris in what you do? Balenciaga is so associated with Paris, it's almost a shorthand for Paris fashion.
Yes, but it's this kind of Paris that people don't really think of. People think of Paris like this movie: romantic, sitting in the cafe in the rain, Rive Gauche, Cafe Flore.
For me, Paris is a completely different thing. The area where I live, it's around Barbes. It's quite rough. There is no chic, polished thing. It's very real. I go to the supermarket to shop and I make so many pictures and write things I see people wear.
There are so many crazy people in Paris, all grumpy, but very inspiring.
How do you develop this from here? How do you take it forward?
I think I found the base for what I want to do at Balenciaga. It's really to build in the certain refined attitude and the modern couture element into wearable clothing and to work quite architecturally with garments, because that's for me what Balenciaga stands for.
Once you have this recipe, I think it's quite easy.
NEW YORK TIMES