In typically unorthodox style, Tbilisi Fashion Week opened with a performance starring models in traditional Georgian-dress, miming scenes from the movies of Soviet actress Sofiko Chiaureli. This unconventional fusion of old and new was a key theme throughout the fashion week, as designers reflected on the evolving cityscape.
Max Machaidze, of Georgian brand LTFR, described Tbilisi as “the big corpse of a dinosaur surrounded by all this new life that’s being built around it. It looks trashy and rough, but it’s inspirational to live around here.” His intimate presentation at his precisely curated space highlighted Tbilisi’s potential as a future fashion city. Sitting on a convergence of sprawling shanty workspaces, Machaidze’s atelier lies in what he calls an “alien ghetto”. With a background in art and music, he works on the character – and the stories behind it – while creating his DIY refashioned garments. Of his collection the designer notes, ‘It’s about adding details that inspire me. Like a Kimono mixed with a football shirt, contrasting something ancient with the new. It’s like poetry, you have to pick the right elements and assemble them.”
This eclectic and offbeat approach to construction could also be seen on the runways of designers such as Elénny and Mariam Gvasalia. In a progressive move, this season Tbilisi Fashion Week put out a call for new designers on social media. A sure sign of how the fashion week is looking to grow at a grass roots level. According to Tako Chkheidze, the founder of TFW, supporting new talent is the main aim of Tbilisi Fashion Week, “From the beginning we wanted to support new designers and talents. We hope to make our design talent as famous worldwide as they are in Georgia.”
Chosen as part of this new platform is Elénny. A designer of few words, she let her first collection do the talking. With an air of nonchalance, looks constructed in clashing fabrics and vibrant colours told the story of a young designer’s struggle with material shortages. Working with limitations often produces the best results, however, and her tailored asymmetry, fluted sleeves and high-waisted flared trousers told a new tale of the 1970s, Georgian-style.
Showing her sophomore collection, Ani Datukishvili is another promising young talent. Having trained at Central Saint Martins and Istituto Marangoni, her impressive collection was built around lines and a colour palette inspired by Basquiat. Her real point of difference, however, was her keen eye for tailored details: voluminous trouser hems and the layering of flat fabric constructions which floated by like ghosts from the past. Datukishvili is hopeful for the future of Georgian fashion, but deeply aware of the challenges facing the community of designers, such as a lack of materials and production resources. “When I want to do something, I need to be able to think that I can realise it here, which normally isn’t the case.” Notes the designer, “There are problems in Paris too, it’s so expensive to put on a show. So, there are positives to showing in Tbilisi as well.” Disappointingly the incredible venue – a cultural monument from the Soviet era built in 1905 – that boasted restored features, including expansive spaces, grand stairways, ornate alcoves and decorative balconies, was mostly overlooked in favour of a rigid catwalk in a classroom.
Tbilisi Fashion Week name-to-know, Mariam Gvasalia could be the big sister of both the aforementioned designers, and her collections attest to the quality that can be found in Georgia. Focusing on the shoes, she designs each collection from the bottom up. Her attention to colour was evident in the quilted outerwear, making the pieces deceptively feminine while transparent overlays introduced a touch of the salacious.
Not just a draw for local designers, Tbilisi also boasts a roster of international talent. Highlights this season included Ukrainian Lara Quint, Soncees from Armenia and the London-based Russian brand ZDDZ. Quint’s philosophical approach to fashion came through in a tailored, minimal exploration of the contemporary relevance of religion and idolatry. Showing for the second time in Tbilisi, the designer’s fluid style is focused on draped silhouettes, with details like backpacks and pleated ribbons adding a scholarly flourish for fall/winter.
Russian designer Dasha Selyanova of ZDDZ was also vocal in her support of Tbilisi, “I seriously love this City. The quality is here.” Mixing slogans and phrases like “Employee of the Month” and “Team Leader”, her collection continued its clever commentary. Ingeniously presented in the working office of Ernst and Young, this was a standout show of the fashion week.
In fact, Tbilisi Fashion Week is at its best – for designers and audiences alike – when it focuses on more concept driven presentations that work with the DNA of the city. If designers could utilise the visually abstract architectural language of Tbilisi as an alternative to the tired catwalk show, perhaps the city could gain leverage on the experiential fashion schedule. A hidden gem of the fashion week was the photo archive nestled at the top of the Tbilisi History Museum. A bricolage of vibrant images, it captured the spirit and experimental energy of the Avant Garde Fashion Assembly from the late ‘90s, when Georgia was taking its first fashion steps. While its current crop of designers are clearly forward thinking, it seems a shame not to make more use of the potent physicality of the city to ferment Tbilisi as a hotbed for fashion creatives.