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Referential clothing – chic or darkly capitalist?

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Apr 17, 2020

The use of everyday brands in fashion has infiltrated our screens and closets slowly for almost a decade now, from Vetements to Moschino to Anya Hindmarch – but this all really became a topic of conversation when Vetements released their $200 DHL Shirt back in 2016.

 

The shirt created a buzz in the fashion industry that was different from all the other brands using similar strategies: it was almost surreal and felt ominous. It was not Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, or Moschino’s Fall 2014 Mcdonald’s inspired collection; this was something else entirely, think corporate slogans, industrial logos, and empty gas stations, something irking apocalyptic capitalism. Why would anyone want to wear a shirt that is normally sported by DHL personnel and carriers?

Is it the appeal of the colors? The logo itself is not necessarily beautiful or exceptionally well designed, but something about the desire to display it speaks volumes to the kind of anti-capitalist critique that this fashion brand engaged with. 

Here’s the catch: the same T-shirt that was being sold by Vetements could be purchased from DHL’s own website for $6.50. The only difference between both is context—a runway or a delivery truck. Is Vetements’ stunt a blatant scam, a comment on global capitalism, or is it a high-fashion conspiracy? An exceptional subversion that set the fashion world on a different path?

 

 

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Vetements did not invent the wheel, but perhaps instead took cues from artists dating back to the early 1900s: think Duchamp’s urinal displayed in an art gallery in 1917 that took the art world by storm, and Warhol’s 1964 Brillo boxes (now in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum). The act of taking a well-known brand or image and creating a version of it that is placed in a different environment, out of context, was and still remains one of the biggest nods to anti-capitalism. The culture-jamming movement of the late 80s and early 90s is perhaps the biggest example of this anti-corporate activism that relies on already existing advertisements that are subverted and defaced by activists, like this Coca-Cola ad that has “PROFIT” graffitied under its “LOVE” slogan. 

The tradition of using logos in fashion as a form of resistance to capitalism has been carried through from the 90s, but we can’t help but feel like it’s hypocritical in and of its own. After all, Vetements does charge an exorbitant fee for their clothes. From the commodification of workwear to the fetishization of food and furniture providers – fashion is obsessed with appropriating all things working class.

But do they actually give a shit about the working class?

 

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