ON the dock of the Kai Tak terminal in Hong Kong’s old airport, a fleet of yellow DHL trucks formed an unusual marketplace on Saturday afternoon. Spilling out of them were Swiss tourist goods, luxury T-shirts and trainers, and white raincoats that spelled out 'Hong Kong Playboy' on the back. You might have mistaken it for the most epic car boot sale on the Orient – the Hong Kong skyline giving panoramic backdrop in the afternoon sun – but as hoodie-clad youths formed a mile-long queue outside, it could only mean one thing: Vetements had come to town. “To me, everything has become so digital and accessible today, I think it’s so important to get out there and do something that’s special and unique; something you can truly experience,” Guram Gvasalia reflected over coffee the morning after his limited-edition shopping event. The ingenious Vetements CEO – brother of the brand’s designer, Demna Gvasalia – had partnered with Joyce on the one-off affair, which followed similar Vetements orchestrations in Seoul and Los Angeles over the past two years. http://hongkongeye.org “We have creative discussions that are not just about selling stuff, but about creating experiences,” said Andrew Keith, president of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group, minutes before the doors opened on Saturday and crowds flooded the terminal dock. “Both Guram and I feel very strongly that in this world where there’s so much fakery, it’s the experience that becomes the new authenticity; that becomes the truth. Certainly, from what’s happening from a consumer perspective, there’s that need for something unique and something to share.” Like the secret gig of a rock star, the event was announced through Vetements’ Instagram account just one day before, giving fans like Kim Jaebun, who had been queuing for 20 hours, little time to make arrangements. Coming from mainland China, tickets to the Hong Kong ferry were sold out and he had to go via Macau to be first in line. “It was exhausting,” he said. “Look at the line, it’s all the way down!” Like many in the queue, Kim’s sights were set on Vetements’ collaboration goods: the Tommy Hilfiger hoodie, the Reebok trainers, and the DHL raincoat. “It’s very famous nowadays and quite hot worldwide,” he said of his affinity for the brand. Further down the line, Sonia from Hong Kong concurred: “It’s quite different compared to other brands. It’s not too high-profile. Some brands are too high-profile,” she said, summing up the cult brand status which has defined the success of Vetements since its sky-rocketing launch in 2014. Sonia, whose collection counts seven pieces already, said she had come for the oversize cuts, a common denominator for fans in the queue. “I like the special collaborations and the oversize fit,” said 16-year-old Aaron, who was there with his girlfriend Kitty, both of them draped in Vetements head to toe. “Apparently Demna said he’s going to make less oversized things, but I hope he’ll continue some of it because I think it looks really cool.” “The cult of Demna and the way they’ve built their social media following around that,” Keith reflected, attempting to explain the ongoing appeal of Vetements. “There is this global connectivity through social media that’s been great for this particular brand. In this market, they’ve tapped into a kid who’s looking for something that’s different. This market has always been about new and unexpected, and particularly now. The collaborative element of it is something that’s quite interesting.” Hong Kong’s ultimate destination for in-demand and independent brands, Joyce has played an integral part in the rise of Vetements in Asia. “They bought us the first season, before we even had a show,” Gvasalia recalled. “And they place big orders. The store had a sell-through this spring/summer of 95 per cent. It’s beyond any average.” Before Joyce proposed the event, Gvasalia had been in Bonn to visit Ken Allen, the CEO of DHL Express, which Vetements first collaborated with on their legendary DHL T-shirt from spring/summer 2016.
“They have this whole room dedicated to people wearing the DHL uniform, taking pictures in fashion poses,” Gvasalia noted, amused. Allen had told him how Hong Kong is one of DHL’s hotspots, so when Joyce got in touch it all came together. DHL provided 25 trucks and 13 containers for the event, art directed to reflect the local Mong Kok hawker markets in Hong Kong. True to the upside-down normative nature of Vetements, Swiss tourist souvenirs (manufactured in Switzerland) graced the boots of the DHL trucks. Mugs, saucers and fridge magnets – even cowbells – featuring cheesy Swiss landscape photography were branded with the Vetements logo. On the backdrop of the Hong Kong skyline, it made for an unusual constellation to say the least. The souvenirs weren’t just a nod to Zurich where the brand relocated from Paris in early 2017, Gvasalia explained, but a reflection of the event’s global spirit. “People are so international today, they come from so many backgrounds, and all these cultures create one big global culture,” the 31-year-old business mogul said, himself a product of Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, London and Paris.
“When I was studying in Paris, I always found it interesting when I’d see Chinese tourists buying those little Eiffel Tower trinkets, coming all the way from China to Paris to buy something that’s actually produced in China. But it’s about the experience.” When yours truly posted the Swiss fridge magnets on his Instagram, one follower wrote: “I don’t know if this is Demna & co completely losing it or striking gold.” Another replied, “Selling tourist magnets for 200HKD is striking gold I’d say.” Is there anything Gvasalia couldn’t sell if he stuck the Vetements name on it? “But I wouldn’t put the logo on just anything,” he retorted. “We don’t license, and that gives you a certain power of control. Once you start licensing you can’t stop the machine. But if you do really small quantities – a hundred pieces for your global market – it disappears in seconds. It can be a pencil, or tape, or in our case, fridge magnets, but it’s a good memory and something that makes everyday life nicer. It’s not necessarily about buying expensive sneakers. It’s about having a memory.”
After the brand’s meteoric rise to stardom and the overexposure that inevitably came with it, whispers in the fashion industry questioned if Vetements would be able to sustain interest and sales. Observing their Hong Kong fan base casually pulling £700 hoodies out of the backs of those DHL trucks, there’s certainly no need to worry in Asia, which Gvasalia said is his biggest market after America. Asked if he knows how much Vetements they sell, Keith laughed. “Yeah, a lot! And we continue to sell it very well.” It’s the breadth of Vetements that gives their business longevity, the Joyce boss explained: “What’s really great about the brand is that they’ve given themselves license to take it wherever they want to. That’s its sustainability. They’re going to continue to be able to extend the brand for a long time, because they’ve got that unexpected quality and flexibility.” You could call the fridge magnets a case in point, but on a more significant level it’s Vetements’ cleverly positioned partnerships with household name brands, and their knack for the unexpected, which gives the Gvasalia brothers space to grow and extend their following.
“I always check up on what’s happening with our social media statistics,” Gvasalia said. “Every day around 3,000 to 4,000 people start following the brand. And I’m always wondering, who are these 4,000 people who find out about Vetements on a daily basis and want to start following it? It’s around a 100,000 people a month, or one million people a year. It’s insane,” he admitted, a smile on his face. “Out of these 4,000 people, even if it’s just one per cent, it’s 40 people, who represent the new clientele of the limited-edition clothes we make. That’s a lot of new customers on a daily basis.”
Vetements Spring/Summer 2016 Ready-To-Wear
Vetements Spring/Summer 2017 Ready-To-Wear