Forget the usual fashion cities, we headed out to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi to discover fashion’s new wave of cool
When I told my friends, I was travelling to Georgia for fashion week, there looked at me with curiosity. “Georgia, like as in America, Georgia? Are you going to a Miss Peach pageant?” Incorrect. I was venturing to Tbilisi, Georgia, the country that lies between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, a city that plays host to a Mercedes-Benz fashion week.
Momentarily ignore the fashion capitals as you know them – New York, London, Milan and Paris – for there is a new wave of fashion weeks coming from emerging markets that are bringing a much-needed newness and excitement to the industry. Top of said list is the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
Tbilisi itself has been having a real cultural moment, dubbed “the coolest city you have never heard of” by W Magazine and “the Hollywood hipster hotpost” by CNN, so it seems apt that their budding arts and culture scene would also incorporate fashion. Especially when a fashion light has been shone on the city after the meteoric rise of Demna Gvasalia, arguably the most influential man in fashion right now, who hails from Tbilisi.
Costanza Lombardi, junior buyer at Browns – London’s most directional fashion store – highlights the importance of Tbilisi on the fashion calendar: “Georgia is currently experiencing a great creative boom. The history and the geography of the country allow the culture to be susceptible to many different influences resulting in unique creative output,” she says. “Recently the Soviet aesthetic has been a huge trend across fashion, food and more. Georgia promotes a lot of original creativity and this is highlighted through brands such as Matériel, Situationist and N-Duo. All of these brands have different aesthetics but as a design collective breaking out of Georgia they share a strong creative and design message.”
Consider this your Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi cheat sheet.
The names to know
Situationist, by designer Irakli Rusadze, is one of the few labels to have been recognised outside of Tbilisi on an international stage – Bella Hadid is a huge fan, a mean feat for the 27-year-old self-taught designer. Outside the warehouse location of the show, Situationist fans shared their love for the brand by bearing the name on their shirt and neckerchiefs, before entering the stark space. What came down the catwalk (at breakneck speed), was impressive leather work outwear in Eighties silhouettes, big-shouldered tailoring, thigh-high boots and a Working Girl attitude. This was glamorous streetwear at its finest.
Another young talent from Tbilisi is Lado Bokuchava, a graduate from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, who not only designs for his own label but is also the head designer at super-cool Georgian collection Matériel. His show at Tbilisi’s First Experimental School (Tbilisi Hogwarts if you will) was a celebration of colour and modern feminity. Bokuchava is often cited as the Georgian JW Anderson, and you can see why – exaggerated sleeves, asymmetric hems, womanly but a little off-kilter. Think lady-like dressing, nipped-in waists and power shoulders in unexpected fabrics such as latex and PVC to jar against the femininity of the collection.
You know that tiny sunglasses trend that Rihanna and Solange started? The one that has spurred an entirely new genre of eyewear? Well, they were George Keburia. Another one of Georgia’s self-taught, young talents, the game-changing designer is bringing a sense of glamour to Georgia’s underground fashion scene. Much like a lot of Tbilisi’s designers, his collection – presented in an outdoor tree-lined arena – took inspiration from Balenciaga’s reincarnation under Demna: Eighties power suits, singular crystal earrings and cycling shorts (it’s a big ask). But there was also a softer, more wearable side to his collection – oversized polka-dot printed cotton dresses and tailoring with sailor-like bibs.
It’s Nineties on the street and Eighties on the catwalk. That’s the resounding feeling from Tbilisi. Power shoulders, big crystal earrings, oversized proportions, experimental hair and make-up. Another big underground name, Gola Damian, brought Eighties ravers to Tbilisi with politically charged, rainbow-coloured crop tops and neon skater skirts. The Demna effect is real and not going anywhere.
Like them or loathe them, full-length gloves are having a moment (thank you Calvin Klein and your £300 washing-up gloves), and Tbilisi is on board. Patent, coloured, slick to the skin or bagging at the elbow, even ones that become part of your jacket… Your manicure days are coming to a close.
The street style
Street style from around the major cities has really come under the spotlight this year,due to a lack of diversity but also a lack of authenticity. Tbilisi, thankfully, has authenticity by the bucketloads. Sitting at the crossroads of East and West, the city has an aura about it that seamlessly mixes old and new, and the street style of the city has adopted this hybrid. Pure Nineties nostalgia jostles with refined luxury, with predictable brands such as Balenciaga and Gucci taking a back seat for home-grown talent. Check out our full debrief on why Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi is breaking all the rules for the right reasons, here.
Images: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi / Getty