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Dazed & Confused Winter 2017
Organdy corseted dress Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, silk and cotton tulle dress worn underneath Dilara Findikoglu, eyewear George Keburia, ear cuff Rihanna's own, leather belt Fleet IlyaPhotography Harley Weir, Styling Robbie Spencer

Meet the designer behind the tiny sunglasses seen on RiRi & Solange

George Keburia talks hyper-femininity, his Georgian heritage and how a pair of sunglasses changed his game

With the world as visually oversaturated as it is today, it can take a lot for an emerging fashion designer to get noticed. Occasionally, though, it takes just one item; for Georgian designer George Keburia, it was a pair of sunglasses that were a game-changer.

Sleek and angular, Rihanna was seen wearing a red pair on the pages of Dazed as part of Harley Weir’s Nocturnal Activities cover storySolange has been snapped in a pair, and the designer counts Bella and Gigi Hadid as fans too. It’s no surprise they’ve proved a hit. The glasses strike a balance between effortless statement piece and curious design object, qualities that render them a must-have for the Insta-generation – yet another reminder that although the runway remains an essential outlet for the major brands, the fashion landscape is being increasingly shaped by social media.

“I wanted to mix an iconic cat eye silhouette with a more futuristic aesthetic to create shades that are equally classic, edgy and modern,” Keburia explains. “Strangely, a lot of our customers say that the glasses do not suit their face, but they still buy them. I think the reason is that it gives them a stronger aesthetic and makes them feel more confident.”

A combination of the odd and attractive offers perhaps the best insight into Keburia’s design approach. His last two collections projected a vision of high-tech femininity, with sharply constructed, precise pieces that were rooted in classic elegance, while still subversive enough to look strikingly cutting-edge. Keburia’s propensity for contrasting elements, such as voluminous sleeves worn with long skin-tight gloves, and sheer dresses adorned with feathers, result in a unique brand of femininity. His designs go beyond the functionality of clothing, offering a sense of fashion escapism.

Entirely self-taught, Keburia dropped out of a course in business management to pursue a career in fashion, finding himself part of a wave of promising designers coming out of Georgia – a country whose fashion industry has had a spotlight shone upon it owing to the success of Demna Gvasalia. The scene is diverse and exciting; while Keburia takes on hyper-femininity, Irakli Rusadze’s label Situationist is renowned for its sharp tailoring and leather pieces, and despite the differences in their approach to design, Georgian designers face a number of shared challenges – keeping their work authentic, bringing something new to the global narrative and not falling into existing stereotypes. 

For Keburia, reflecting on the country’s heritage is key to this, “I usually think globally during the design process, but Georgia’s history is important to me as well,” he says. “For my latest collection, Georgian heritage was not the source of inspiration, but reflecting societal issues in art is sometimes inevitable, since our daily life is so influenced by those things. Fashion, as with every field of art, gives people a voice and an opportunity to express what they care about. My AW16 collection partially echoes the civil war and turbulence of the 90s in Georgia. The gun print was used to reflect the difficult and dark times the country went through, but on the other hand, the rainbow colours were used to undermine that darkness, giving an overall vibe of optimism.”

In the spirit of fashion’s current obsession with over-the-top flamboyance and questionable taste, there’s also something a bit ‘off’ about Keburia’s designs. “I have been looking through different music videos and images from the 1980s,” he says. “I liked how funky, vibrant and funny this decade was, with its odd style which is tacky, humorous and stylish at the same time. This gave me the inspiration and pushed me to reflect the same vibe and mood. I wanted to channel 80s Hollywood glamour and prom vibes through a mix of colours, fabrics, and textures, as well as oversized accessories.”

Keburia’s take on extreme femininity could seem passé, but in fact it’s incredibly relevant to fashion’s current mood. As gender norms continue to shift, it has become apparent that the visual conventions of masculine and feminine are free for experimentation. Moreover, with the fashion landscape currently dominated by streetwear, with its liberating unisex aesthetic and slouchy silhouettes, performative sex-appeal and second-skin garments offer a natural antithesis – with Saint LaurentBalenciaga and Shayne Oliver’s Helmut Lang all offering their take on hyper-sexuality in recent seasons.

“For a long time, I have been making clothing with an emphasis on masculine tailoring and subtle feminine finishes,” Keburia says. “At the moment, I enjoy making a more feminine silhouette with exaggerated shapes and a synthesis of heavy and light fabrics. I consider these looks very relevant, as they relate to the sentimental aesthetic currently very present in the fashion scene.”  

The increasing presence of voices from beyond the Western fashion centres is a certainly a positive trend for the industry. As fashion gradually takes on more challenging political issues, there is a lot to learn from those who have emerged from more challenging environments. “Georgia has a fresh and cool generation of designers, who have an older, more conservative generation firmly standing behind their backs”, Keburia states. “They are in the very process of breaking the rules and traditional norms, and that makes them interesting.”