Tbilisi’s second fashion week comes to a close today, marking the end of a nearly month-long season where dozens of designers proved that Demna Gvasalia is hardly the only design talent from Georgia’s capital worthy of attention.
The city has actually hosted two fashion weeks for years now, though its design scene is only just beginning to find recognition – both on an international level, as Gvasalia continues to turn heads in Paris at Balenciaga, and back at home, where support for up-and-comers seems to be only on the rise. The country's First Lady even attended the staid first round of shows, and many of the second’s more alternative names are now represented at the city’s newly established Chaos Concept Store.
Designing in a post-Soviet country does have its difficulties: there’s essentially only one fashion school, Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, and the lack of smaller-scale factories means that both garments and shoes often have to be handmade. But despite those constraints – or even arguably because of them – the city is still breeding creativity, and increasingly confidently claiming its unique blend of fashion, art, and even skate scenes as a culture distinctly of its own. Here, five proudly Tbilisi-bred labels whose standout collections this season proved the buzz isn’t going away anytime soon.
Mention of Demna was practically unavoidable once showgoers descended on the city, but as soon as the first of the weeks kicked off, another Gvasalia began to dominate the conversation. Mariam Gvasalia, no relation, is something of a cult favorite among Georgians right now, and stole the first round of shows with a nighttime presentation in a clothing fabrication factory where the aisles between rows of sewing machines served as the runway. The pieces shown, though – including draped plaid prints and quilted gold lamé – were all handmade by just two or three people in Gvasalia’s atelier, which is located in the same space as the shop she’s run since 2013, even though she’s only five collections deep. The 25-year-old designer now has her eye on global expansion, and wisely so: She’s found so much success in Georgia lately that her shop’s inventory is often a bit depleted, its ever-emptying racks the best indicator of her increasing demand.
Since the self-taught, 26-year-old designer designer George Keburia founded his eponymous brand in 2010, he’s also gone on to design for Matériel, Georgia’s famed fashion incubator whose roots go back all the way back to 1949. Now, though, Keburia’s put the focus back on his namesake label, whose spring collection he showed this season in the conference room of a Holiday Inn, looking to keep things comfortable and casual. Last season, Keburia kept the focus on Georgia, with provocative motifs like machine guns and simply the word “Gay” that referenced the country's strife and civil wars. This time, though, he looked to Japan, topping off his satin and organza creations with embroidered bamboo leaves and cherry blossoms – along with a few sparkly lobsters.
Max Machaidze, half of the design team behind LTFR, has been playing around with design since he was 16, when he dropped out of school in favor of making t-shirts, skateboards, and even hip hop. Now 20, and still rapping under the name Luna999, Machaidze is not only also an artist and interior designer, but half of LTFR, a label he and his design partner and girlfriend Iri Todriashvili, 31, have been running for years now but only recently expanded outside their immediate group of friends. Their spring 2017 presentation in an open-air construction zone might have been only the brand’s second show, but Machaidze has tons of art exhibit experience under his belt, which he’s eagerly carrying over to the clothing – one-of-a-kind pieces that he treats like sculptures, selling each individually through email. A mix of uniforms and sportswear, the collection was topped off with hockey sticks and helmets, outfits for those who Machaidze calls “urban warriors” – the well dressed, cross-disciplinary coterie he’s a part of, whose battles include drug decriminalization and gay rights. (You may recognize them, and Machaidze, from When the Earth Seems to Be Light, last year’s cult documentary on the gang that makes up Tbilisi’s skate scene, more recently behind projects like the skate ramp that doubles as an art exhibition space inside Chaos.)
Ani Datukishvili may have looked to the 80’s for inspiration for her debut collection, but the designer was actually born in the 90’s, having just founded her three-months-old namesake label at only 23. Still, Datukishvili is hardly a novice: She’s studied both at Central Saint Martins in London and Istituto Marangoni in Paris, even presenting a collection for the Georgian brand Dalood Group last season, shortly after she moved back to Tbilisi. All that made Datukishvili even more determined to set her eponymous brand apart from the rest at home, which is why she imported silks and cottons from Paris for her debut season, working with colors inspired by striped, broken TV screens, topped off with embroidered messages like “404” and “no signal found.” The resulting blend – an 80's-centric interpretation of Off-White – will soon be stocked in stores in both Tbilisi and Moscow, though Datukishvili’s already thinking about how her designs can make their way back to Europe, too.
As one of the scene’s more established names, 30-year-old Nicolas Grigorian has been showing his namesake label at Tbilisi Fashion Week for several years now, garnering himself local awards and a rare spot amidst international labels in stores around the city. And while he’s opened up to doing collaborations – he just designed a series of leather jackets for Tbilisi’s Chaos – the designer has stuck with doing his own collections, too: This season’s infused '80s glam with an elastic-heavy showing of sportswear complete with skin-tight, sock-like shoes. Many models wore dresses and short shorts, but Grigorian’s boxy shoulders also made for a rare, more conventionally masculine showing in a scene practically devoid of menswear.