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Photography Davit Giorgadze

The brand putting Georgia on the fashion map

Emerging label Situationist takes inspiration from traditional Georgian cultural heritage but wants to make clothes that appeal to everyone

At the emerging Georgian label Situationist AW17 show last week in Tbilisi, the presence of the models was powerful. They walked slouching back and swaying their shoulders, the movement emphasised by boxy tailored jackets and long thick leather trench coats, while over-the-knee boots, leather gloves and open collars only added to the effect. A rare graphic element in the collection was a red appliqué of the figure of a woman holding a cup and sword — the symbol of Mother Georgia, the eponymous statue towering on the hill just above Tbilisi. The 20-metre aluminum figure might be familiar to some thanks to the 1989 cult Comme des Garçons editorial where it appeared framed by bright red tulips. For Situationist, however, the symbol is anything but a traditional relic – it’s a gateway into their globalist, forward-thinking vision, with a touch of rough sex appeal and unapologetic attitude thrown in.

Situationist has already made a bit of a splash, considering it has only just shown its third collection. With the rise of Demna Gvasalia to the ranks of fashion royalty following his appointment as the head of Balenciaga in 2015, his native Georgia ended up in the spotlight, with international press and buyers eyeing up the local scene for new potential prodigies. Situationist’s early work was fit for their taste: trend-savvy, slightly rough around the edges, minimal and slouchy yet not entirely free from the ever-present influence of Vetements. At the beginning of the year, the brand had a show at White Milano and made it into the tabloids when Bella Hadid appeared wearing one of the label’s long leather trench coats and cream-coloured thigh-high boots. The pieces manifested a clear move into the new direction: more simple yet refined, subversive yet powerful.

Situationist was founded by Irakli Rusadze and Davit Giorgadze in 2015. In the beginning, Rusadze was responsible for the design side while Giorgadze, an artist and photographer, oversaw the visual part of the brand’s identity. Today Rusadze mainly works on the brand on his own, with occasional input from his former collaborator. Background for Situationist is a key part of the artistic vision. Tailoring, for example, which is prominent in AW17, is an echo of the cultural father figure which is still strong in the patriarchal Georgia. “Fathers and grandfathers would always wear suits, it’s in all the archival pictures,” Rusadze explains. “It was something very Georgian, from before we had the ability to see what’s going on in Europe or US. Thick leather also comes from these references, and very big shoes – in the 90s in Georgia you’d always see people wearing enormous clothes and shoes because they would be passed on from cousins or uncles or grandfathers.”

At the same time, the masculine connotation of tailoring is re-appropriated for today’s new era feminism. “I grew up surrounded by strong women. Mother Georgia is a symbol of a strong woman,” Rusadze says. “In real life in Georgia, we don’t always fight for it – there are of course activists but in real day to day life women often put up with their tasks and roles. For me, this collection is about celebrating this strength in women, it’s a huge part of Georgian identity.”

Today, for the emerging brands all around the world, national identity is becoming an increasingly powerful tool. It’s particularly poignant for post-Soviet countries: Gosha Rubchinskiy has successfully turned his background into a new global subculture, while for the Ukrainian new wave it’s a vital question of self-determination. Certain examples popped up even in the notoriously global-minded work of Vetements. Rethinking national and personal histories, however, is an all-encompassing trend: it can be seen in the work of Grace Wales Bonner, Super Yaya and Samuel Gui Yang to name but a few, and it’s an authentic way of bringing diversity into the fashion narrative. At the same time, in the increasingly global world where our values are are no longer determined by borders and birthplaces, this approach at times could seem hopelessly limiting.

“I grew up surrounded by strong women. Mother Georgia is a symbol of a strong woman” – Irakli Rusadze

“From the start, we wanted to think global. We never thought of producing something which is just nice for Georgia. Our key statement is that people can wear it everywhere,” Rusadze says. “Sometimes I think it’s so lame to represent a certain identity, it’s so boring,” Giorgadze adds. “As a creative, I don’t believe in borders, I don’t get why I need to get a visa to go to London, and that’s why I want to make things which are for everyone. Of course, it does channel Georgian cultural heritage, but then look at tuxedos in the collection – it’s very California chic and you could easily wear it there”.

Situationist’s clothing certainly does transcend the idea of belonging to a certain country – partly thanks to their visual language. At times it is bold, dark, abstract, ambiguous and not just about documenting the clothes but about evoking a certain emotion, desire or experience. In a world where we increasingly consume clothes not just as physical objects but as images on a laptop screen, as a myth and part of constructed visual identity, this is essential. “In the beginning when we were shooting, we’d look at pictures and cut the jeans or cut the jacket, make it shorter, wider, make it a different colour,” Giorgadze says. “The first lookbook we shot at Irakli’s place, and we used everything that he had in the flat, even the bedsheets as we didn’t have much money for anything.” Today, as one of Georgia’s most cutting-edge young brands, Situationist is a favourite for the country’s best image-makers including Grigor Devejiev, a true powerhouse when it comes to creating new visual identity for the country’s fashion scene.

So in the end, what is it that gets an emerging brand on the global radar? “I think you have to risk,” Rusadze says. “Sometimes you look at our collection and you have this feeling that it’s not immediately obviously nice, you have this doubt if it looks good or not, and that’s why we do what we do. You look at some garments and think, what the hell is this – but then, this reflects how we all dress today.”