A meme has its moment

Vetements' amused reaction to its parody coat could have broader implications

NEW YORK • Vetements, the upstart collective built on a combination of elevated grit and Martin Margiela antecedents that has become the darling of French fashion, has proved influential in any number of ways, inciting a renaissance in the industry's fascination with street style and the exaggerated silhouette that culminated in one of its founders, Demna Gvasalia, being named artistic director of Balenciaga.

Which means that Vetements' recent reaction to a parody garment created by Davil Tran, a 22-year-old from Brooklyn, could have something of a snowball effect on the industry.

Tran, an architecture student who lives with his parents, was inspired by the Vetements raincoat, a black polyester hooded number that resembles old Polizei-style raincoats but with a white Vetements logo across the back (you can get it on eBay for about US$430, or S$580).

He created his own version with the word "Vetememes" in white capital letters across the back.

The result is available to pre-order for US$59 and has created a quasi-sensation since its debut on the Web recently. It has been featured on Vogue.com and refinery29.com, and Tran says he has had inquiries from China, the Netherlands and South Korea.

"I had no idea it would blow up this big," he said by phone from his apartment, where he was getting ready for school.

The Vetememes raincoat debuted on the Web recently and can be pre-ordered for US$59 (S$80). PHOTO: VETEMEMES.COM

Tran, who also has a job helping administer the e-commerce site Grailed.com, said he had been collecting fashion by brands such as Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto since he was in high school and that he decided to create the Vetememes parody coat because "you can't see a street star without seeing Vetements and it just made me think of a meme".

Given Vetements's appropriation of logos from DHL to Champion, it never occurred to him that his usage could be an issue.

But in recent years, many brands have taken a notably aggressive approach to protecting their images and intellectual property.

The action can make sense when it is related to a high street brand obviously copying a runway look, but the approach has been extended to humorous take-offs, as when Yves Saint Laurent went after a T-shirt company in 2013 for selling a style emblazoned with the words "Ain't Laurent without Yves" (a response to the new artistic director Hedi Slimane's decision to rename the ready-to-wear line Saint Laurent).

I had no idea it would blow up this big... you can't see a street star without seeing Vetements and it just made me think of a meme.

DAVIL TRAN, a Brooklyn student who created the Vetememes parody coat

It caused some understandable eye-rolling among industry-watchers and consumers, but not enough to significantly alter the brand mood.

The website thefashionlaw.com wrote a long meditation on whether, by making the raincoat, Tran exposed himself to litigation. The conclusion: possibly, but there were some important mitigating factors.

Tran said he had been contacted by a wholesaler, which he did not identify, that was interested in selling the Vetememes raincoats, but the company also wanted approval from Vetements.

You can understand the reaction, given that when the Paris concept store Colette sold the Saint Laurent parody T-shirts, the brand disinvited the retailer from its runway show and declined to work with it.

The Vetements folks, however, seem more amused than charged up by Tran's homage. "Vetements will not be filing any lawsuits over the Vetememes raincoat and hope that he has enjoyed making his project as much as we do making our clothes," Gvasalia wrote in an e-mail.

Well, there you go.

That will probably come as something of a relief to Tran, who said he had not bothered to consult a lawyer when making his raincoat and who is hoping that his newfound fame may lead to a life in design as opposed to architecture.

"I'm just a dumb kid," he said, adding, "hopefully, I can use this to create more stuff."

Beyond his career, however, the Vetements case - or lack of it - could have broader implications, especially given Gvasalia's role at Balenciaga, which is owned by Kering, which also happens to own Saint Laurent. It is never a bad thing when fashion can laugh, or at least chuckle, at itself.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'A meme has its moment'. Print Edition | Subscribe