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Five designers you need to know from Tbilisi fashion week

A new generation of talent is putting the Georgian capital on the map

Forget New York, London, Paris, and Milan (at least for a minute). When it comes to fashion right now, the city with the loudest buzz surrounding it is the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Situated at the point where Europe meets Asia and Russia, Tbilisi is a melting pot of creativity where cultures clash and a new generation of designers are asserting themselves as ones-to-watch on the international fashion stage. While a certain Balenciaga designer might be the reason all eyes turned towards the city in the first place, there’s a reason it still has our attention three years on.

Showcasing exactly what the city has to offer was this season’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, which took place last weekend. Featuring a diverse line-up of established brands, rising talent, and those looking to shake up the industry, the vibrant city played host to fashion insiders for a weekend of shows, talks and events that spanned all four corners of the capital. In addition to the main showspace – an incredible Soviet-era circus – designers presented collections in venues including the Tbilisi Institute of Physics, and the imposing Brutalist structure that houses the National Science Library.

First up, though, was Gosha Rubchinskiy, who kicked things off with an intimate conversation in underground techno club Bassiani. Returning to the venue two days later, the designer also threw the party of the weekend alongside DJs signed to his new record label, Rassvet Records. Elsewhere on the schedule, The Situationist showed its latest gender-blurring offering as part of a co-ed show in an old movie studio, while George Keburia followed up last season’s presentation with a series of sugary-hued futuristic silhouettes, voluminous spotted smocks, and, yes, his signature tiny shades (which still haven’t lost their appeal, FYI). Also making waves was promising Spanish designer Célia Valverde, who made her debut in Tbilisi as part of the Mercedes-Benz International Design Exchange Program, and Gola Damian, who re-launched the Chaos Concept Store with a bang (literally).

“The event is evolving really quickly,” says Sofia Tchkonia who founded Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi in 2015. “It’s amazing to see brands growing and developing, looking for their own way of thinking, their own aesthetic. This is the generation that doesn’t know the difficulties of living under the Soviet Union or the the hardship of its aftermath in the 90s. They are the generation of technology and open borders, and Eastern and Western influence. Fashion in Georgia is some of the most exciting in the world.”

Here, we round up some of our favourite brands on the Georgian fashion scene – and beyond.

AZNAURI

Founded in 2016 by The Situationist’s Irakli Rusadze, Aznauri aims to dismantle the borders that define genders, with collections designed for everyone. It makes sense – the brand’s name means ‘free’. Like many Georgian designers, the use of natural materials and easy movement are key to the brand, with this season’s made up of loose track-style pants, billowing overcoats blown up to huge proportions, and uniquely-cut tailoring. Having previously had models play a (full-length) football match in the grounds of a Tbilisi hotel wearing the Aznauri SS17 collection – all wool suits and leather trenches – to the soundtrack of the 1981 Euro Cup (which Georgia won), this season saw the designer strip things back to basics.

As part of a collection inspired by the way men dress in Georgia, Rusadze combined Eastern and Western elements while exploring traditional notions of masculinity. Sending models out for the show’s finale holding hands, his AW18 collection was also a statement on LGBTQ+ rights in Georgia: “It’s difficult because being gay is not totally accepted, but it’s getting better,” he told us backstage. “I can’t see many Georgian men wearing my clothes yet, I don’t think they’re ready for them. But I hope one day soon they will be.”

CÉLIA VALVERDE 

There’s a chance Celia Valverde’s name might ring a bell, given she’s amassed herself some pretty high-profile fans recently. Following in the footsteps of Georgian designer George Keburia, Valverde’s tiny sunglasses were picked up by Kendall Jenner last month and subsequently sold out – in less than a week – when she was photographed wearing them. “It was crazy,” recalled the designer backstage. “We had only just launched them and suddenly they were all gone. People are still adding themselves to the waiting list now.”  

And it’s not only Jenner’s attention that her collections have caught. Though she’s not actually Georgian, Madrid-based Valverde was selected to show at last weekend’s event as part of the Mercedes-Benz International Design Exchange Programme, which offers emerging designers the chance to present their work to an international audience. Swapping places with Babukhadia, the Tbilisi creative who presented her collection in the Spanish capital in January, Valverde’s collection offered up an exploration of what femininity and sexuality means in 2018, with cut-out dresses, mannish suits covered in sequins, and nightgown style dresses all featuring prominently. “It’s a different kind of sexiness,” she explained after the show. “It’s not explicit, you don’t need to have everything out, you know?”   

TAMARA KOPALIANI

While the rest of the world might still be held in its grasp, in Georgia, the trend for all things post-Soviet (at least on the runway) is seemingly all but over. Gone are the knock-off sportswear-style looks and brazen logo details, and in their place are clean lines, sharp tailoring, and fresh, optimistic colour palettes.

Epitomising this new outlook was Tamara Kopaliani’s AW18 offering, which comprised cut-out minidresses, wide-leg trousers, sheer slips and chunky, oversized knitwear, presented in a palette of faded neons. There were also cropped boxy shirts, cycling shorts, and a stand-out pyjama-esque trouser suit bearing a graphic motif throughout. “I wasn’t inspired by a particular concept this season,” the designer told us backstage. “It was more about this idea of a spiralling gradient, which you see in the prints. I wanted everything to be bright and light, the way I see Georgia’s future.”

GOLA DAMIAN

We’ve talked about the enfant terrible of Georgian fashion before, but given he’s constantly developing his aesthetic – and this season sent a stand-out collection of neon, rave-ready looks down the catwalk – we’re drawing your attention back to him again. AW18’s show took place at the almost-but-not-quite refurbished Chaos Concept Store (which the designer himself co-founded), and ran almost an hour late. As guests crammed themselves into the space and spilled over onto the makeshift catwalk, the music (a track by German heavy-metallers Rammstein) cut out not once, not twice, but three times. Sounds a mess? It was. But it was also hugely fun and demonstrative of Damian’s DIY spirit.

Having touched on youthful subcultures and gender politics previously, the collection itself comprised diaphanous pussy-bow blouses, bright leather blazers, neon panelled skater dresses, and oversized sports shorts worn by a co-ed cast of the progressive designer’s friends. “I want to make things that awaken memories, and design clothing that creates stories,” he said post-show, “clothes that combine Georgia’s past with its future.”

LADO BOKUCHAVA

That Lado Bokuchava’s AW18 show took place at Tbilisi’s First Experimental School in the Georgian capital’s old town was apt. Balancing the past, present, and future with avant-garde detailing and traditional construction methods, the collection itself was an experimental foray into femininity – with distinctly fetishistic undertones.

Also working as part of Georgian fashion collective Matériel – which debuted its own new-season collection as part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi this weekend – the designer’s approach has previously been likened to that of JW Anderson. With both Bokuchava and Anderson favouring sharp tailoring and angular silhouettes with offbeat elements, it’s easy to see why. For AW18, his collection was made up of wide-shouldered suits in striped, brushed velvet, pinched bodices with geometric necklines, and chunky gold buttoned detailing that offset it all. The pièce de résistance, though, was a high-shine vinyl cape with matching gloves and boots, which clashed ladylike elements with something altogether darker.