“I’m going to Tbilisi Mercedes Benz Fashion Week next week…”
“They have a fashion week?!”
So went the refrain when I told friends and colleagues that I’d be spending four days in Tbilisi, Georgia viewing the runway collections of young Georgian talent. Three seasons in and the Mercedes Benz-sponsored fashion week shows over 30 collections to an international audience of press and buyers (Vogue.com, Russia’s Magazin Kuznetsky Most 20 (KM20) boutique and China’s Modern Weekly were all in attendance). Given the new creative director of Balenciaga and designer of label-of-the-moment Vetements, Demna Gvasalia, hails from Georgia, many of us were curious what other talent could be uncovered from this land of wine, nuts and beautiful women.
And I was pleasantly surprised to discover six labels I hadn’t been familiar with, which I could see easily sitting on the rails of the best international stores. I have a slight shiver of delight to think that they could soon be gaining international attention given the audience and their reach. So I’m outlining my favourites here with the hope that they’ll be more widely available to buy for us all (though secretly happy to have snagged myself some of their unique pieces while there so that I can still dress in some unexpected labels, the kind that spark a conversation and desire…)
Founded by twin sisters Lalo and Nina Dolidze in 2012, they had their first runway show this season and what came down the catwalk drew excited fidgets and chatter, as women wanted every single item right then and there. What was presented were fantastic pieces in metallic tweeds, a kind of Chanel-gone-disco vibe that looked both glamorous and comfy, and in true Masterchef style, tweed came three ways. On tailored garments, shoes, and even items as simple as a T-shirt.
A standout piece was a tweed jacket, cut like your best denim jacket in the perfect length, slouchy but with structure in-built in the fringed hems, and with a cut-out in the back. Other yes-please pieces were the long, bouncy, luscious knit coats in graphic, rainbow knits and a fantastic, tweed biker jacket.
What’s most amazing is that Lalo and her sister Nina make their own tweed out of hand-painted, natural yarns from the Caucasus, crafted in endless combinations to create exclusive and unique fabrics for their collections. They have 200 women in Georgia knitting for them and creating clothes that I know many a London woman would love to have. Let’s hope they get a stockist here soon!
There was a lot of buzz before Tbilisi-born, Paris-based Ketevane Maissaia’s shoe presentation – a series of wooden boxes, each with a small hole cut out to peer inside a mirrored world of colour and refraction. Her unique zip loafer has zippers along its elevated seam so that you can actually zip the two shoes together to form one.
Her presentation alongside the boxes of curiosities included a scene of dancing models, seen only from their ankles to the ground, grooving and toe-tapping in an insouciant way that was as sweet as her shoes are fun. Playing on just the one style of loafer, she added height for a wader-type boot with the iconic zipper seam that wouldn’t look out of place for a night out on the town during London spring showers.
Given Ketevane also designs accessories for Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe, she definitely knows what women want when it comes to bags and shoes and is one to watch.
This was truly one of the highlights of my Tbilisi Fashion Week. The moment we entered the location for Djaba Diassamidze’s first ever show in his hometown (he has been Paris based for several years, having shown his first collection at the age of 16 in the same location 12 years ago!) you could tell there would be magic. His runway return to Georgia was staged at the National Youth and Children's Palace of Georgia – a location with gilded walls, chandeliers and an atmosphere that could take you back to a bygone era of majestic balls held by the Tsars. While many a designer might be cowed by the grandeur of the location, Diassamidze’s old-school glamour and theatricality of his gowns more than matched the locale.
His show notes read: “A tribute to the most modern women, those who were able and wanted to emancipate themselves, declaring their own freedom and asserting their own individuality”. And individual it was – his cast was made up of friends and muses (including Ketevane Maissaia, the shoe designer). In an age of jeans and sneakers, Diassimidze made what would typically be considered costume seem utterly poignant, relevant and desirable. The audience certainly left feeling inspired to dress up and be princesses for the night.
With more than a nod to the couturier masters such as Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy, Djaba’s Parisian woman in Tbilisi was a sight to behold and a revelation.
Two women who own multi-label store More is Love (who recently had a pop-up at the Cabbages & Roses store in London) also create wonderful handbags all handmade in Georgia. Inspired by their travels and nature, these bags hark back to a vintage shape but with the most modern of fabrics woven through to give them depth and colour. Blue metallic tweed, or “sparkly pink”, or old school yellow and green yarns – each bag is a lovely ode to a handmade piece of arm candy.
The 711 presentation at the MOMA building where all the runway and presentation shows took place created a Wes Anderson-style scene, with two Margot Tenenbaum models acting bored and naughty – a great ode to the American filmmaker and a delightful way to present their bags. While the set was Instagram candy, it was the bags that remained the hero, spacious and easy to handle, these will be hanging off of very It-girls arm soon, I know it.
Much anticipated was the Atelier Kikala fashion show – the creative director of Atelier Kikala is Lado Bokuchava, widely acknowledged as one of the more successful, proficient and productive designers in Tbilisi. His collection was imbued with a fantastic sense of colours – my favourite look was an off-the-shoulder dress with a white bodice, deep burgundy graphic inserts across the shoulder and purple ribbons flowing off the dress to compliment its soft, black skirt.
His silhouettes, when not focused on the newly erogenous chest-bone zone, were writ large – billowing puff sleeves reminiscent of the 80s club-wear you’d find in a Nan Goldin photograph (apparently one of his inspirations for the Fall 2016 collection), or oversized and slightly padded coats and karate jackets. I love how it was styled, with simple hair and makeup and fantastic earrings all the way through.
I love the minimalist, echoes of Celine at the Bevza show. Svetlana Bevza, the founder and ideologue the label, lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine. She was a finalist of Vogue Talents International Contest held by Vogue Italy in 2014. Moreover, she won the title of “Best Womenswear Designer” at the Best Fashion Awards in 2013.
A Tbilisi To-Do List
As for Tbilisi, what a brilliant city. This is my to-do list for visiting the birthplace of wine, amazing food and sulphur baths:
- Stay at Rooms Hotel – a converted factory done in great taste. The courtyard bar is a great space to unwind.
- Check out Popiashvili Gvaberidze’s Window Project – an initiative that showcases Georgian artists’ work in public spaces. It’s lovely to stumble upon the various artworks embedded into the city’s architecture. I saw artwork enshrined in the window of a theatre, the modern, glass entrance of the Iveria Cafe, and even elevated atop a billboard.
- Dry Bridge Flea Market on a Saturday – a car-boot-sale enthusiast’s dream market, with everything under the sun laid out on the pavement.
- Cafe Littera at Writers' House Tbilisi – a breathtaking garden-set restaurant we visited. I would go back there in a heartbeat.
- Teyo Official store – a small boutique selling an independent designer’s pretty collection in the old part of town. I wanted it all.
With many thanks to Sofia Tchkonia, the founder of BeNext, whom I consider the godmother of Georgian fashion and the one who invited me to discover the talent in Tbilisi.
Text by Caroline Issa