Demna Gvasalia may have put Georgia on the global fashion map, but just three decades ago it was a country embroiled in civil war and political unrest with barely any infrastructure. Today its capital, Tbilisi, is quickly becoming a notable fashion destination, with two fashion weeks to its name and a growing retail scene.
“Georgians had to live through decades of political instability with ongoing financial, economic and social crisis,” explains Georgian designer, Tamuna Ingorokva. “But after the Rose Revolution in 2003 (the peaceful change of power which marked the end of the Soviet-led era in Georgia), the country began to develop steadily, and this evolution is reflected in the fashion industry too.”
She adds that when she launched her label, Ingorokva, in 2002, she faced major challenges as a designer and no one took her, or the fashion industry, seriously. Yet, she used these issues as inspiration, establishing an aesthetic of sharp lines and structured silhouettes to represent women fighting for liberation.
She goes on to explain that the country has completely transformed over the last decade: “I believe the main reason for Tbilisi’s radical growth can be put down to political and economic stability, along with technological developments,” she says. “Young designers now have greater opportunities, greater resources and numerous platforms.”
“Young designers now have greater opportunities greater resources and numerous platforms”
Maka Kvitsiani, creative director of Georgian label Dalood, which was founded in 2000, suggests having two local fashion weeks operating alongside each other – Tbilisi Fashion Week (established in 2009,) and later Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi (MBFWT) in 2015 – has been a major push for the industry. “I think having two fashion weeks has absolutely forced the scene to evolve,” she believes. “Because of them, important industry insiders are showing more interest in what Georgian designers are doing.”
Nino Eliava, owner of Tbilisi-based multi-label boutique More Is Love, believes Sofia Tchkonia, the founder of MBFWT, has had a crucial role in the city’s fashion developments. “Sofia has done a great deal to boost Tbilisi’s fashion scene, inviting some of the most relevant people from around the world to attend Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi,” says Eliava. “She has lead the way for many emerging Georgian designers, and has been pivotal in shaping Tbilisi’s fashion weeks to the highest standards.”
Unsurprisingly, Dalood’s Kvitsiani praises Demna Gvasalia – the Georgian-born designer currently at the helm of two global labels, Vetements and Balenciaga – as another individual single-handedly magnifying Georgia on the global stage. Kvitsiani suggests Gvasalia’s rise to fame in the early 2000’s sparked international interest in the capital.
Up and coming designer, George Keburia, who founded his label in 2010, also agrees that Gvasalia was an instigator, but is quick to point out that a new wave of Georgian designers are paving their own way. “Although I believe Gvasalia pushed the industry, many Georgian designers have always followed their individuality and built their own integrity, which I think has prepared them well for international markets,” he says.
“Georgia offers extensive resources in handcrafted skill and many local designers utilise these resources”
Keburia himself is now at the forefront of Tbilisi’s fashion scene, finding success internationally after debuting his SS’19 collection on the official Paris Fashion Week schedule. Famed for his signature miniature cat-eye frame, his womenswear collections place emphasis on masculine tailoring and feminine details. Additionally, he has built a portfolio of leading international stockists including Tom Greyhound in Paris, Browns in London and Opening Ceremony in New York.
Despite Tbilisi’s growth looking positive, Eliava explains that many designers still face complications including the country’s limited production capabilities. “Costs of raw materials are also quite high, as most of them need to be imported from around the world,” she says. In fact, Ingorokva, Keburia and Kvitsiani unsurprisingly all outsource their fabrics: Ingorokva’s materials are brought in Italy and France, while Dalood’s come from Spain, Italy, France, and Turkey. However, all three designers base their production in Tbilisi, favouring the city’s ateliers and artisanal craftsmanship. “Georgia offers extensive resources in handcrafted skill, and many local designers utilise these resources,” says Eliava.
Regardless of their challenges, many Georgian designers are determined to expand globally, contributing to the development of their labels and the industry. “Georgia is not that powerful economically, and it’s a small market, so relying on local distribution is too difficult,” says Kvitsiani. “Many Georgian designers have crossed borders and are actively selling their products outside of the country.” She adds that most of them have found popularity in nearby countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
In terms of Tbilisi’s global fashion presence, Kvitsiani’s outlook is relatively reserved: “I don’t think it’s quite there yet, but I believe the world is beginning to see its potential and people are starting to see fashion in the city as a source of business and investment.” Eliava, on the other hand, is more positive, suggesting Tbilisi can already fair against major fashion cities: “I think Tbilisi already holds a respectable place alongside Paris, Milan, London and New York, and by the looks of it the industry will only continue to grow. The potential for fashion is in the city is endless.”