Photography by Joe Harper
Styled by Yael Quint
Established in 2015, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi has quickly become a must-see from its eclectic street style to upcoming Georgian talent who are mixing the rich culture into viable ready-to-wear collections. The Fall/Winter 2019 shows kicked off on May 2nd with several designers who are helping to institute Tbilisi as the world’s most exciting fashion destination. Of course, Demna Gvasalia paved the way with Vetements and Balenciaga (he became the artistic director in 2015) but these new talents are proving there’s much more to see in the post-Soviet country.
Outside of the big four—New York, London, Paris, and Milan—smaller, niche fashion weeks are gaining traction thanks to social media. But all eyes are on Tbilisi right now. “We had and have so many talented designers but they didn’t have access to the fashion professionals globally,” says Sofia Tchkonia, the founder of MBFW Tbilisi. She’s been instrumental in bringing these small designers in front of international press and buyers. “My biggest dream is to put Georgia on the global fashion map and make this country known from its art, fashion, and talented people,” she continued.
This is only their fifth season but the RSVP list already includes prominent buyers and editors, vying to see what the buzziest Georgian fashion designers have to show. It was a first for Laurence Fortin-Cote, Assistant Fashion Director, Hudson’s Bay, but she was able to quickly recognize why the city is attractive to industry professionals and locals. “The mix of modern and historical influences is reflected in the creativity of the local designers which I think is what makes Georgian fashion so unique,” she says. While she noticed that each designer had their own aesthetic, there was a strong presence of tailored pieces and vegan leather styled in different ways, from feminine dresses to trench coats.
LALO X ZARQUA
Out of the bunch, George Keburia’s name may ring a bell as the man behind those micro cat-eye sunglasses seen on the Kardashians and friends. The Instagram-worthy shades combine a feminine silhouette with a sharp, edgy design—qualities he tends to utilize in his collections. He continued with this playful spirit for his Fall 2019 collection by using heart motifs as buttons to amplify the feminine aesthetic in oversized dresses, suites, and blouses.
Situationist is another label that has made it overseas with the help of Bella Hadid and a black leather jacket that went viral two years ago. The it-girl pieces from the 28-year-old self-taught designer, Irakli Rusadze, take inspiration from strong women growing up under Soviet occupation. He suited up for fall with tailored utilitarian pieces in dark greens, creamy whites, and burnt orange.
In a world where influencers are driving trends on social media, some local designers, like George Keburia, are finding quick fame internationally once celebrities latch on. Others are utilizing the growing crowds of buyers and journalists at MBFW Tbilisi. “We’ve been working actively to attract fashion journalists and buyers,” Tchkonia says on the evolution of MBFW. “I’ve been happy to see so many publications season after season and Georgian designers in the stores and online worldwide.”
Two other names to keep an eye out for include Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili and Lado Bokuchava. Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili’s collection for his namesake label incorporated metallic fringe, brightly-hued masculine silhouettes, and faux leather (animal products are a no-no). He created his own brand in 2017 and showed his first collection at MBFW Tbilisi in 2018. “This project is evolving and becoming more advanced thanks to the hard work from its organizers and designers,” he says. “The fact that Georgian designers are ‘cool’ nowadays says a lot about our fashion industry.”
The award-winning designer also helms Matériel with Lado Bokuchava, a unique fashion house that rotates up-and-coming Georgian talents in order to expand their designs internationally. The label can be found at global retailers like Moda Operandi and Net-A-Porter, making it easy for shoppers to discover the young designers. George Keburia also designed for Matériel in 2013, before creating his famous sunglasses.
After graduating from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in 2011 and participating in various projects and contests, Aleksandre was offered the position to design for Matériel. “It helped increase my awareness locally and globally, but also gave me a lot of experience,” he says. “Before, I was already known in Georgia and outside the country but I was able to create collections that expanded my name even further.”
While the Georgian fashion industry may seem fairly new, Fashion House Materia—which started the premium clothing line Matériel—was founded in 1949 and remains one of the oldest apparel manufacturers in Georgia.
The standout pieces from Matériel’s latest collection include fold-over coats, asymmetrical hems, and suits freshened up with bright colors.
The other half of Matériel, Lado Bokuchava, also showcased his namesake label with cool-girl dresses with unique ruching and unexpected drapery, taking inspiration from religion, rituals, queens, and brutality. “I try to make my collection interesting for press and buyers while staying true to my signature,” he says. “It’s refreshing for me to be able to work on two different projects together—my namesake label and Matériel have different aesthetics so it calms my mind to be able to move between the two.” Also a graduate of Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, Lado joined Atelier Kikala before designing for Matériel in 2014. He then launched his namesake label in 2017 which has been on the tongues of prominent buyers and fashion editors since.
Of course, it’s no easy feat to draw attention season after season. But with the hard work from these young designers feeding fresh styles to an ever-growing crowd and passionate organizers behind MBFW, Tbilisi has a strong future ahead. “I’m happy to hear that people are calling Tbilisi the newest fashion destination. That is our aim,” says Tchkonia.
Producer: Yael Quint
Make-Up: Lana Matakheria @lankamakeup
Model: Liza Koberidze
Special Thanks: Sofia Tchkonia, MBFW Tbilisi, Natali Models Management