Georgia: A hotbed of design and creativity beyond Demna Gvasalia
Near the Kurà river and not far from Fabrika, a trendy neighbourhood that is popular with skaters and young artists and is home to the largest concept hostel in the city, FashionNetwork.com is speaking to Sofia Tchkonia, creative director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi.
Founded in May 2015, when the guest list only included 25 names, Tbilisi Fashion Week has recently celebrated its 10th edition. This time around, there were 80 guests in the list -- from press representatives to international buyers -- thanks to the support of the Georgian National Tourism Administration and Ministry of Economy.
“This project was born, fundamentally, to boost European tourism in Georgia,” Tchkonia tells FashionNetwork.com.
In a country with deep-rooted culinary heritage, the interview takes place amid ‘khinkalis’ and ‘khachapuris’, at Chveni, a traditional eatery.
“Many people don’t even know that Georgia is a country. My main goal is to show Georgia through fashion and art, present our creativity and culture to the world,” says Tchkonia, an expert in Almodovar films who, after years of working in film, never thought she would end up in the fashion trade.
“Tbilisi Fashion Week has grown much faster than expected. Georgia is a small country, where locals don’t even know how this industry works. Now we have fashion tourism, something that didn't quite exist before. And that is thanks to the fashion week,” she says.
Demna Gvasalia has helped spread the word after he left the country during the civil war in the early 1990s to disrupt the industry; first at Vetements, and then as the creative director of Balenciaga.
“Georgia is a very small country (Tbilisi has a population of 1.5 million people). There was no fashion industry, resources were limited and so was funding,” says Tchkonia.
“Designers don’t have a lot of financial support. They are self-taught and have managed to develop high quality collections on their own. Tbilisi Fashion Week has grown much faster than expected. We don’t know exactly how, but it’s the truth,” she says.
Small but influential, the country was named as a guest nation at Pitti Uomo’s June edition.
Aspiring designers and local production
Taking place over five days, the fashion week includes both national and international names, thanks to a designer support program led by Mercedes-Benz. It was this initiative that allowed Spanish luxury brand Dominnico to take part in the event.
For Tchkonia, Georgian design is synonymous with “freshness and dynamism”.
“Designers are looking for their place in the world. It’s a learning process, and its rapid growth is very interesting. We have no manufacturing infrastructure in Georgia, and yet they chose to make their clothes here,” she says.
Thanks to the fashion showcase, emerging designers are starting to reach new territories via Net-A-Porter, Moda Operandi and MyTheresa.
“A while ago, it would have been unimaginable for Georgian designers to be featured on international platforms,” Tchkonia adds.
Finding the right time to host the fashion week, given how busy the international fashion calendar is, was a challenge for the event’s creative director.
“I was worried about the dates. I thought nobody would be interested in coming home, considering this is an emerging market. However, we have seen some international interest since the first edition. We are different from other fashion weeks in that this is an exotic country, and for many people that involves a new experience,” she says.
Perhaps the event’s biggest success has been rallying local people for support, particularly given the country’s tumultuous recent history.
“Up until recently, fashion was not popular in Georgia. Georgians didn’t like wearing Georgian designers. This has changed, with the rise of social media and e-commerce, it has become cool [to buy local],” says Tchkonia.
With 500 to 900 guests attending each show, the event boasts of high local support.
“The new generation wants to be part of the process. Georgia is not an easy country, and over these five days, people come here to forget about their problems, enjoy and celebrate beauty,” she concludes.
Going beyond Demna Gvasalia
Among the most highly anticipated shows is that of Anouki, a rising star in the Georgian fashion scene. Founded in 2013 by fashion designer and celebrity Anouki Areshidze, the high-end brand hosted a high impact runway show in Vale Park. With a bright yellow carpet paving the way for models to showcase midi dresses, oversized blazers and vegan leather garments, the show was reminiscent of Jacquemus’ 10th anniversary celebration. There were mini skirts, exaggerated silhouettes and glistening trench coats.
Not far from there, knitwear brand Lalo took over the Mediathek, with checkered coats, vintage-style cardigans, long dresses and knitted bodysuits, which were combined with knee-high boots in the Spring Summer 2020 collection of twin sisters Lalo and Nina Dolidze.
The contemporary spirit of their collection was set in opposition to the theatrical flair of Datuna, led by established designer Datuna Sulikashvili. He is known for choosing unusual places to present his collections, and he didn’t disappoint this season. The designer, who has dressed Georgia’s first lady and other leading figures from the country’s political and cultural scenes, selected the Kakhidze Music Center for a presentation set to the tune of live classical music. Voluminous dresses, puffy sleeves, embroidered bodysuits and military-inspired capes completed a wardrobe that is now on sale in cities including Kiev, Moscow and Paris.
On a more commercial level, it was interesting to see the potential of young brands such as Aleksander Akhalkatsishvili and Blikvanger. The first, launched last season by Aleksander Akhalkatsishvili is already stocked in Moda Operandi, Browns and Net-a-Porter. While Blikvanger, established in 2017, introduced knitted dresses and jumpers, unstructured cuts and oversized trench coats.
Also noteworthy were the surprisingly delicate designs of Moscow-based luxury firm Bessarion. Inspired by Mondrian and Diana Krall’s music, as well as by Phoebe Philo’s vision for Céline, the brand held an event at Silk Factory Studio. Short jackets, high waisted trousers and blazers came in a colour palette of grays and beige, complemented by coats, pencil skirts and black leather gloves.
After several days of fashion shows, discovering the influence of Soviet architecture and the new fashion and culture scene in the districts of Vake and Krtsantiso - and numerous Sulguni cheese snacks later - the verdict is clear. Nestled mid-way between Europe and Asia, Georgia is finding itself. A welcoming country, still hurt by its recent history, builds its future around its vast culture, filled with art and poetry, as well as its auspicious location.
Fashion is emerging not only as a design industry, but as a communication tool that heralds the country's economic resurgence. And it shows encouraging signs of change. Despite its challenges, Georgia is fast becoming a creative powerhouse and a hotbed of dynamism. “He who comes once, will always come again," Sofia Tchkonia says. And she clearly knows what she’s talking about.
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