Vetements under fire for fashion alluding to Hong Kong protests

Priya Elan
·2 min read

The fashion label Vetements has drawn criticism for making reference to the Hong Kong protests in its latest collection.

Items in its autumn/winter collection feature a blue spray effect which, according to Vetements’ chief executive, Guram Gvasalia, is a reference to the anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, where police fired water cannon containing blue dye at protesters as an identification technique.

Gvasalia told Vogue Runway the collection was inspired by “the hell we’re all living through”. The incendiary selection featured a T-shirt with the slogan “Gvasalia for Vetements” done in the style of Bernie Sanders’ campaign posters, a full-face black balaclava worn with ripped jeans, and an inverted anarchy symbol drawn on a model’s bare chest and a white dress-shirt printed with the NC-17 film rating logo. Gvasalia said the blue paint splatters were a reference to the Hong Kong police spray.

Diet Prada questioned the label’s use of the effect: “Is Vetements baiting publicity through outrage or is their fashion statement just plain insensitive?” The industry watchdog said the label had created politically inspired collections before, including its SS19 collection inspired by its founders having grown up in Georgia during a civil war, but this was inappropriate because it was not involved in the Hong Kong protests.

“The inclusion as a fashion statement is confusing, the blue ink wasn’t something protesters voluntarily donned, and many are exiled or still serving time for participating in the protests.” Diet Prada readers commented that profits from the sales of the clothes should go to help the cause. One reader said: “It would’ve been a better move to have the profits go to the NGOs supporting the movements and people involved, otherwise it does look like a grab at the ‘aesthetic’ of protest and democracy movements.”

The industry publication Business of Fashion said consumers in mainland China would not take kindly to the reference as “any perceived support of democracy activists is likely to be denounced as being [anti-Chinese]”.

The Vetements’ collective became famous for its seductive co-opting of subcultures and anti-glamour stance using oversize hoodies and subversive use of pop culture and slogans, most infamously its adoption of the DHL delivery company logo on a high fashion T-shirt. Its anti-establishment aesthetic is well known but many are questioning whether its current collection provides mere shock value without substance.

Vetements’ original creative director, Demna Gvasalia, who is also Guram’s brother and the creative director of Balenciaga, left the company in 2019, announcing: “I feel that I have accomplished my mission of a conceptualist and design innovator.”

The Guardian has asked Vetements for comment.