Once, during a ‘random’ security check for explosives on my person at Brisbane Airport, I asked the security professional this question: “I’m not being funny, but I get selected for this check every time I come through security. I am honestly not bothered and am happy to do it, and I understand if you can’t answer this, but is there a reason why I would be chosen every time?” To my surprise, he told me: “Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I chose you today because of the graphics on your T-shirt.”
Fair enough, I thought. My shirt was tight-fitting, black with a highly stylised, silver print of two symmetrically arranged smoking guns. But is it fair enough?
I was reminded of this incident while reading an article about Vetements in a recent issue of i-D magazine. It opens with company founder Demna Gvasalia recounting how a man in Stuttgart was arrested and spent two hours in custody because he was wearing their
spring/summer ‘16 ‘Polizei’ print trench coat. The police released the man, after confiscating his coat, despite there being no law in Germany protecting the commercial use of the word for police (Polizei). Gvasalia insists that “he makes clothes simply for the sake of clothes, yet incidents like this easily reflect the brand’s ability to mirror and impact the global political climate… he says… ‘Look at Paris. You go to a shopping mall and they search you. It’s unbelievable. We never thought about that when we did the security and police prints, but it kind of makes sense in this context today.’”
The good old black trench coat, immortalised by Christian Slater in the 1988 film Heathers
as a symbol of anti-social youth who reject outright the bourgeois values of mainstream society, and taken as a symbol
of violent rebellion ever since the rumoured association between the ‘Trench Coat Mafia’ and the Columbine killers in 1999 (who did wear black trench coats, even if they didn’t belong to the group). When I google-image-searched ‘people wearing Vetements Polizei trench coat’, the
results made me think immediately of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian gunman who massacred 77 young people in 2011 by dressing as a policeman – victims ran towards him thinking he was part of a police rescue team.
Although coats in a similar style have existed for some time,
trench coats were first mass produced in conjunction with newly invented waterproof fabrics during WW1, specifically for Allied soldiers fighting in the trenches (hence the name). Although the garment was absorbed into fashion design within twenty years (think
Humphrey Bogart in the 1940s), surely any serious fashion designer operating in Paris today would be aware of the trench coat’s history as military apparel, especially the adaptations made to the coat by the German military and Gestapo during WW2.
I know the Vetements Polizei trench coat is not leather, but from a distance… and in Germany? I think the thing that troubles me most about this garment is Gvasalia’s quote in relation to his team’s design approach within the fraught social and political context of Europe today. Speaking in relation to increasingly restrictive anti-terror security measures: “We never thought about that when we did the security and police prints…” They didn’t think…? From a 34-year-old man whose family fled Eastern Bloc conflict with nothing but a photo album and settled in newly united Germany, I find that hard to believe. Yeah, I definitely feel fashion designers, with their enormous capacity to influence culture, should be thinking about context.
So that’s the part that troubles me. Not that the polyester garment cost nearly US$200, not that it shocks people, or creates controversy by triggering police response. Over-priced, shocking controversy is nothing new in the fashion industry. It’s that the company’s owner declines to take any level of responsibility for the thought processes underlying Vetements’ design of a garment that carries such heavy historical baggage.
Madsen, Anders Christian. 2016. “Vetements Nation.” i-D 112-133.
All images accessed on October 2, 2016.
Gestapo uniform design: http://www.oldpicz.com/picz/2014/11/04-hugo-boss.jpg
Heathers movie image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/71/c5/ae/71c5aed9d92130a9f5adbb591d7d9186.jpg
Vetements Polizei trench coat: http://image.dhgate.com/0x0/f2/albu/g4/M01/38/BF/rBVaEVc-YaiAaexYAAeEf6jny7w696.jpg
WW1 soldier in a trench: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/03/ac/b8/03acb8bb67b21c393e4aac35cb48181b.jpg