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In October 2015, when a model wearing a DHL T-shirt was sent down the runway to open the Vetements Spring collection show at Paris Fashion Week, there was a moment of bemusement amongst the crowd.
At the time, Vetements was the new kid on the block. Led by Georgia-born designer brothers Demna and Guram Gvasalia, the brand – whose name simply means “clothes” in French – was breaking through with no-frills 90’s-style streetwear, oversized fits, and tongue-in-cheek nods to popular culture. The DHL vetements T-shirt was just another part of the story for a design collective that was positioning itself as “anti-establishment”, eschewing the often-snobby parts of Fashion Weeks, choosing instead to stage its shows in a gay nightclub and Chinese restaurant.
Don’t be completely fooled though – the DHL T-shirt still retailed at a cool $US250 – a price tag befitting of any premium fashion label. Despite this, it was a huge success. Stylists, influencers and celebrities accelerated the hype into full-blown hysteria. The DHL T-shirts soon sold out at retailers and online. Some desperate fans even took to DHL’s own website, where they could buy a similar T-shirt for the bargain price of US$6.50 – albeit if they placed a minimum order of 100.
So, had the world gone mad? Maybe not. “Vetements launched at a time when the fashion industry was taking itself particularly seriously,” Ailsa Miller, stylist and former fashion editor, tells us. “After the recession, there was a real shift away from fun fashion. We were overdue a resurgence of frivolity and someone who was willing to inject humor into the industry again.”
The celebration of the ordinary that was first made so joyous by the Pop Art of the 50s and 60s and then had its heyday in 80s fashion became muffled in the ensuing decades. Vetements and its yellow DHL T-shirt was bringing it back. And it didn’t stop with the T-shirt. The brand has gone on to create several Vetements x DHL capsule collections featuring socks, jumpers and raincoats, which have been snapped up by celebrities and fashionistas alike.
In the Instagram-era, the rules of the fashion game are changing. The ostentatious logomania which was so popular in the nineties is being replaced by visual statements – Moschino with its McDonalds jumper; Anya Hindmarch with her Tony the Tiger Kellogg’s bag. “They are hacking the fashion system,” says Aleksandra Szymanska, Art Director at Aesop, “and they’re credible [enough] to make these statements of capitalist kitsch.
Ben Seidler, Senior Designer at Ralph Lauren, agrees. “The DHL logo, with its representation of a function rather than a luxury, stood for a rejection of frivolity and people found a certain authenticity with that, as well as a kind of humor that resonates with the way people express themselves on social media.”
For Vetements, there was the added benefit of DHL’s globally recognized brand name – the iconic yellow and red colors worn by couriers across the world – that has helped the collaboration make an impact in unexpected territories like China.
Yellow – the new black?
For DHL, the collaboration has been a unique opportunity to gain exposure with a new audience. Where many global brands would have thrown the copyright book at the young upstarts, DHL allowed Vetements to use the logo in exchange for a small number of T-shirts. CEO Ken Allen said he was excited to see them “take something that many people might see as ordinary and giving it an extraordinary twist. I’ve been telling my wife, kids and friends for years now just how sexy the DHL brand is.”
Joining in the fun, the logistics leader ran internal competitions encouraging employees to post photos of their own “fashion shoots” in their uniforms, whilst Allen’s version takes pride of place as his current LinkedIn profile picture.
The brand partnership with Vetements has not been DHL’s first foray into fashion. For decades it has worked with some of the world’s biggest designers, retailers and fashion events to find logistics solutions to improve lead times, accuracy, availability and reliability. In an industry where speed is everything, DHL has been the partner of choice. As it continues its busy work behind the scenes, only the creative minds of the Gvasalia brothers know whether it will get another spin down the catwalk, too. Watch this space…