Davil Tran, a 22-year-old from Brooklyn, founded Vetememes. With its name a tongue-in-cheek nod to existing label Vetements, his startup company has already built a virtual reputation for its single product offering – a logo-flipped copy of the buzzed-about brand’s signature (sold out) logo raincoat.
At $40, it’s a fraction of the price you can expect to pay to get your hands on one of the originals – although initially retailing for $100, a glance at re-sell site Grailed shows that a secondhand jacket will set you back anything from $200-$350.
While on the surface, Tran’s creation seems to be parody in the vein of the Comme des Fuckdown beanie hats and Homies t-shirts that made the rounds a couple of years ago, subverting the logos of high fashion houses, the significance of this relatively simple item goes further than simple graphics mimicry.
It’s symbolic of the way that in an industry currently obsessed with social media, trends are being born and proliferated faster than ever before. Bought online, modelled on Instagram and then ironically reworked, garments like the original Vetements raincoat aren’t just becoming popular, they’re going viral. As Tran told WGSN: “I wanted to start with the raincoat because of how ‘meme’ it is. You can’t look at any street style right now without seeing it.” The coat’s relatively low price tag (compared to one of the brand’s $7,000 sequin dresses) has a lot to do with this – it’s affordable, and therefore accessible.
Like its DHL t-shirt, Champion sweatshirts and Titanic hoodie (along with other pieces that have been seen on everyone from Selena Gomez to Kanye West) Vetements have proven themselves to be particularly adept at creating viral garments, items that have the irony and popularity of memes, with as much life online as off.
Reactions to their pieces range from outrage at their price tags to praise at their power to troll fashion’s fad-driven nature – after all, when you think about it, a $200 courier company t-shirt is pretty funny. As with memes, their graphic designs are satirical and instantly recognizable, taking on new life on social media, such as when DHL Express CEO Ken Allen modeled the unofficial t-shirt and the company posted a who-wore-it-best on Twitter.
Part of the success of these garments is that they tap into the same strategy that streetwear brands have been relying on for decades, where relatively basic, easy-to-wear, signature pieces like hoodies or t-shirts are stamped with the kind of graphics that mark the wearer out as “in the know,” part of an exclusive, aspirational and yet still relatively underground club.
This way, Vetements has done what high-end fashion seldom achieves: it’s generated hype, the kind of frenzied, brand-driven desire that has helped establish names like Supreme and Palace. You might look to the flaming Thrasher t-shirt as an example of another fashion meme. Since being played with by Gosha Rubinchinsky several years ago, its flames have been remixed by Vetements and the original t-shirt has seen a surge in popularity to the point that its total ubiquity has rendered it passé.
Viral fashion is a natural extension of an industry spinning faster by the day, but what’s the consequence of it? It seems a shame that focusing on a few Insta-friendly items like graphic t-shirts might reduce entire collections to a couple of meme-able, hype-friendly garments. It could be argued that these pieces are the equivalent of fashion clickbait – more accessible but not necessarily as indebted to craft or concept as more complex designs.