Things designer Demna Gvasalia doesn’t like: all-night partying, pre-collections, and small feet. Things he DOES like: The Power of Now, French string beans, and Marcel Duchamp. Leave it to Balenciaga’s main guy to give the perfect idiosyncratic interview, which he did today for WWD.
First off, ugly sneakers. The chunky dad-shoe trend that trickled down from runway to city street, Balenciaga to Fila, originated with Gvasalia’s dislike of small feet. “I hate to see small feet visually. A lot of guys don’t like to have small feet,” he told WWD. “To me, large shoes are more stable, and more masculine. Also, I believe when you create a new silhouette, the product succeeds.”
Image via Getty
He revealed that Balenciaga executives were initially hesitant about his Triple S sneakers, trainers with layers of rubber and ‘90s-startup colors. The shoe, priced at a decadent $895, ended up being a smash-hit for the label, helping Balenciaga beat Gucci to become the fastest-growing brand in Kering’s portfolio.
Then, there was the time Vetements and Balenciaga came under fire for a lack of diversity—and for making 150 models wait in a dark stairwell for three hours. Casting director James Scully talked about the allegations of model cruelty in an Instagram post. At the time, Balenciaga announced they had cut ties with the two casting directors involved, Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes.
Meanwhile, in 2016, Vetements was called out for having only white models in its Fall 2016 show. The brand’s Fall/Winter 17 show was, in turn, all about diversity, cast with all real people (read: non-models) with a variety of body sizes and ages.
Image via Getty
On both experiences, Gvasalia told WWD that, “Unfortunately, I had to learn my lesson like this through not being experienced in doing this kind of big show with big brands. I learned my lesson and I think it would be difficult to find a more inclusive and more diverse cast today, so I’m proud of that.”
The designer also talked about Balenciaga’s unique, non-corporate Instagram account, which now has 8.9 million followers. Taking a refreshingly opposite approach to most any other brand, the label’s key to success is “no influencers.” Gvasalia hand-picked 80 Instagram users, some stylists and photographers, others “true amateurs with negligible audiences,” to offer unrefined product imagery that’s compelling to look at.
“I wanted Balenciaga not to be looking like a brand Instagram, or a corporate brand in fashion,” he explained in the interview. “I thought it has to look like somebody else’s Instagram, like a person’s Instagram or a group of people. Basically our Instagram today is a kind of Balenciaga community that we build that visually represents my vision of Balenciaga.”
Image via @balenciaga
And about Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, a self-proclaimed guide to spiritual enlightenment that emphasizes living in the present moment, Gvasalia credits the book with teaching him how to “be happy and love myself.”
He no longer drinks alcohol, follows a vegetarian diet, and gets his kicks from “wearing wacky Balenciaga and Vetements prototypes to food shops in Swiss villages.” He also moved from Paris to the Swiss countryside in 2017. “I feel good,” he said. “Ever since I moved there, my vision has become so much more clear for me personally, I don’t know why.”
Vetements shows typically have a bit of a dark, paranoid air, even when they’re having fun, but Gvasalia says he now approaches his designs from a positive place.
You can be much more creative when you’re free in your mind and actually when you realize what you are doing,” he said. “We’re just talking about fashion, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be all so gloomy.”
Read the full interview here.