“It’s all about the gang mentality: fashion that satisfies the tribal and primal urge to belong, thus conform. The client is either in, and buys the aesthetic and the clothes, or out, and buys somewhere else. The power of fashion to create a group and a bond, after all, is potent. It generates affiliations and the sense of safety given by numbers of people sharing the same code. This is why the insular and subcultural approach to fashion-making is such an effectual marketing and creative tool: it draws in and reassures.” - Angelo Flaccavento, Business of Fashion, June 17 2016
I’ve been thinking a lot about gang mentality in fashion recently. Angelo Flaccavento defined fashion’s gang mentality in recent Pitti Uomo article for the Business of Fashion. The Italian writer documented the Gosha Rubchinskiy and Raf Simons shows, two designers that have amassed a specific following and in-fashion crowd over the years. Their illustrious careers have seen them redefine fashion, whether if it’s deconstruction and re-appropriating articles of clothing like Raf, or painting a picture of the middle-class in high fashion like, both designers have garnered their fair share of positive press, excited buyers, and loyal followers.
The idea of gangs isn’t exclusive to the menswear scene. Many have formed in the womenswear sphere. Just look at the Givenchy gang that Ricardo Tisci has assembled. Kendall Jenner, Mariacarla Boscono, Joan Smalls, Lea T, Bella Hadid, Marina Abramovic and Kim and Kanye. Similarly at Balmain, Olivier Rousteing has cultivated an impressive lineup of Victoria’s Secret Angels and Kardashians. It should be noted, this gang has a combined social media following of more than a few hundred million combined followers. It’s the marketing tool that brands dream of.
Taking a look what Vetements have is amazing. Stylist Lotta Volkova, model and editor Paul Hameline, model and DJ Clara Deshayes. The list goes on and on. Something I’ve picked up on—the real purpose of this article—is why is it only cool for brands like Gosha and Vetements to have gangs?
People are idolising Lotta Volkova and Paul Hameline, at least in fashion circles. I’m not sure the rest of the world are aware of their existence, but from Central Saint Martins graduates to editor level, the fashion industry is infatuated. They’re not as interested in the bevy of supermodels Olivier Rousteing has in his clique. His girls are a mixture of beauties and bombshells. They’re all well-known on the runways, well-known in the real world too: Karlie Kloss, Kendall Jenner, Doutzen Kroes to name but a few. It’s an exclusive club that nobody else is invited to, but I’m inclined to believe the fashion industry expresses disinterest because the general public are connected to it. The exclusivity is tarnished, not one hundred percent in tact.
Yes, there is a vulgar element of celebrity culture at play with Balmain and Givenchy crews, but they are inclusive of a wide variety of people in the way that Vetements aren’t. Until this season, the Vetements casting was ridiculously whitewashed. For a so-labelled “cool” brand, that’s an uncool thing to do. Racist casting—the excuse? It reflects their friend group. It’s 2016, that’s not a good enough excuse. Meanwhile, Balmain has a melting pot of nationalities associated with it: Brazilian, Dutch, Puerto Rican, American, Chinese, Dominican and more. Fashion should be celebrating diversity more, not shunning it because it’s a ‘squad’ primarily made up of celebrity-models.
Ricardo Tisci’s Givenchy gang accepted Lea T early on. He was one of the first designers to feature a transgender model on his runways. He continues to be one of the only designers to feature transgender models on his runway. That should not only be appreciated, but like the diversity at Balmain should be celebrated. As soon as a celebrity steps aboard, the element of coolness escapes, the fashion industry recoils.
Gang culture has permeated fashion in recent years more than ever. Exclusivity has forever made fashion an elusive industry. Cliques are forming in every neck of the woods, from Vetements to Balmain. They are polar opposites but they’re after the same thing: the effectual marketing and creative tool to bag them sales. At Balmain and Givenchy, it’s deployed more as a marketing tool, and at Vetements less so—with the increased interest in the brand, this could change.
Marketing tool or aesthetic building, both types of brand interact gang culture but it’s a sobering thought to think something that is void of diversity—Gosha and Vetements—is more attractive than that which covers all bases from race, age, body type and background—Givenchy and Balmain. That’s more worthwhile and aspirational than not.