The models of new agency Troublemakerz on living in Georgia, walking for Vetements, and how they're making their mark on the world
Led by a new generation of creative youth there’s a cultural revolution happening on the streets of Tbilisi right now. Across fashion, art, music, and beyond, today we explore what’s happening in the Georgian capital, and why the city deserves to be on your radar.
If you’re planning on visiting Tbilisi at some point in the not-so-distant future (more on that here), it’s highly likely you’ll run into at least one or two of the Troublemakerz. This troupe of skaters, artists, musicians, performers, and designers are everywhere.
Whether they’re smoking on the sun-drenched terrace of the Stamba Hotel, voguing across the dancefloor of legendary techno club Bassiani, or skating on the banks of the Mtkvari river, the Troublemakerz are united not only by the fact they’re all aesthetically #blessed enough (albeit in a wholly unconventional way) to have made it onto the books of the modelling agency of the same name, but also for the radical creativity, wild ambition, and progressive outlook they share.
Founded by Tamuna Karumidze, who directed 2015 skate film When The Earth Seems To Be Light and heads up Tamra Skateboards and its fashion label offshoot Tamra, the agency came about after a number of the kids she knew were enlisted to walk in Demna Gvasalia’s SS19 Vetements show. While some of them had previously walked for Balenciaga in SS17, some had no experience of the chaos that ensues backstage at a fashion show, and Karumidze felt the need to protect them: helping to organise their flights, book their accomodation, and make sure they got paid fairly.
“The Troublemakerz have to be good people. If someone who comes to me is really nice and has good energy, I’m just like, ‘okay you can join!’” – Tamuna Karumidze
To be considered for a spot on the agency’s books, Karumidze is less interested in looks and more influenced by someone’s general vibe: “They have to be good people. If someone who comes to me is really nice and has good energy, I’m just like, ‘okay you can join!’,” she laughs. “The name reflects our spirit, and adds a little humour to very serious world. It’s getting a bit difficult now, though, as we’re getting approached constantly by kids wanting to be signed. Iit’s hard to say no, you know?” Recent additions to the line-up include faces from Paris, Milan, and Berlin, who are all keen to be repped by Troublemakerz when they’re in town for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, as well as a number of POC models, as Tamuna endeavours to make the agency as diverse and inclusive as possible.
That’s pretty much where the similarities between established agencies and Troublemakerz ends, though. For most of the models it’s not a case of wanting to ‘make it big’ in the fashion industry – instead, the odd modelling job here and there, where they often get to hang out and have fun together, gains them a little extra cash in a country where the average monthly wage still only equates to about £450, following years of economic struggle. Many of them hold down two or more jobs at any given time, working in bars and restaurants while doing their more creative stuff on the side, as they collaborate on numerous projects together.
Here, some of the Troublemakerz tell us about what it’s like living in Tbilisi, what the city means to them, and what they’re hoping to see change in the future.
SANDRO POPKHADZE, SKATER AND AUDIO-VISUAL ARTIST
Sandro Popkhadze: “Living in Tbilisi is like living in a maze. You always have to figure out your way through difficult barriers in order to be successful at something. But then again, going through this challenging maze is often pretty fun. In my opinion, the creative team here is special, different, and sometimes magical. That’s how it’s been for centuries in this city, I guess because of its weird location (in the middle of East and West), its history, its vibe, and its people. It’s always been a place that attracts creative people in all areas of art.”
“I guess first and foremost I’m a skater, and then a person who’s into audio-visual creation. At a young age, while I was skating and hanging out with a bunch of creative and interesting people, I started MCing and DJing. Over time, I’ve gotten into video editing, sound engineering, and sound design. It all just came pretty naturally to me, and eventually I want to get to a professional level in all of these areas. I don’t consider myself a real model, and I don’t even really know what ‘real model’ means now, especially when the whole fashion world is putting us street kids, like the Troublemakerz, on the runway. That’s what we are, we’re kids with talents and personalities. We’re not just objects to put clothes on.”
GIORGI PATARKACASHVILI, SKATER AND GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Giorgi Patarkacashvili: “I’m a skater and I’m trying to become a graphic designer, and of course, I also model with Troublemakerz. Modelling is a funny thing for me. I don’t do it that often, but it’s fun doing it with my friends and making some easy cash at the same time. Living in Georgia is interesting. On one hand, Tbilisi is like a utopia to me, but it can very quickly switch and feel like a dystopia.”
TAMARA IORAMASHVILI, DJ
Tamara Ioramashvili: “I’ve always been a dedicated music lover and I DJ under the name Kraumur. I’ve not been doing it long though I’m a newborn! I started out collecting records and sharing them on YouTube, dreaming of pushing CDJ buttons. At the moment I’m trying to understand Tbilisi’s hard rhythm and experimenting with various different sounds, and I’ve already played at Tbilsii’s famous queer night Horoom.”
MATT SHALLY, ACTOR AND PERFORMER
Matt Shally: “I’m an actor, a model, and I also work as an assistant to my goddess designer friend Tamuna (Karumidze) who also runs Troublemakerz. I’m hoping to make it to a high level in acting, because I’d love to share my passion and expertise with the next generation of talent in a few years time. I’m also studying history of art at the moment, and it’s really interesting, but it’s not acting – so we’ll have to wait and see what happens with that. It’s difficult to get a great education and find a good career in Tbilisi, but I hope things are getting better.”
“My modelling career began when my friend Tato Oragvelidze asked me to model in his fashion show, and then I did a few more. Eventually I met Tamuna, and she asked me to be in a video for Tamra, and when she started Troublemakerz, I’d already worked with her a lot so she asked me to join. I love being a model because it’s not too different to acting and performing, and I’m addicted to fashion, too. My favourite designers are all Georgian – Aka Prodiashvili, Chubika, and Uta Bekaia, who is an amazing costume designer, are all great, and of course Tamra too. Not because I work with her, because she is dope! I’d also love to walk for Margiela, Gucci, Prada, Balenciaga, Dior… There are lots on my list.”
“Living in Tbilisi is crazy - that’s why I love this city but it’s also why I hate it. It’s difficult being an androgynous guy who’s interested in fashion and performing, who’s doing risky but cool things. The nightlife scene here is amazing, with great places like Success, Bassiani, and Cafe Gallery all over the city, but right now me and my friends are hanging out at home. I think we’re all a bit tired of clubbing, and drinking, and going crazy all the time.”
NINO ZVANBAIA, PRODUCTION, COSTUME, AND GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Nino Zvanbaia: “My background lies in production and costume design, but now I’m studying again to become a graphic designer. Tbilisi is great because it gives me a lot of inspiration to make stuff, and everyone in Troublemakerz is inspiring, too. We’re all here creating together. When I’m not studying or working, mostly I hang out with my friends in the old city. We skate, drink, draw, and just make stuff usually.”
Nikoloz Chavchavadze: “I’m a filmmaker and I do a bit of visual art as well. As for the modelling – I don’t really consider myself a model, just a really good looking dude! Living in Tbilisi isn’t like living anywhere else. Historically, it’s always been a multicultural place and it still is. The people who live here are open to new ideas though, and the city is becoming more modern, not only when it comes to architecture and things like that, but culturally too.”
Anna Gordeziani: “I don’t really consider myself a model: Troublemakerz was started by my friends so I just got in! But I’d love to live that Gucci life, at least on the catwalk. Right now, I’m living in Hamburg and studying cultural anthropology. I want to learn about our past, present, and future, and understand more about the world and society we live in.”
“I really miss my hometown now I’m living in Germany. Tbilisi is very contradictory – it can make you really happy and sad, all at the same time. The political situation here is so complicated and has a huge impact on every person in the city, and I think there’s still a lot of sadness here from what happened in the past. When the Soviet Union collapsed and we gained democracy, the whole world changed for us, and I think things are still being figured out. I’m only 20, but its influence can still be felt on my generation.”
“Things seem to be starting to change though: there are a lot of young musicians and artists here who are doing good things. The best thing about Georgia is its people.”
MISHKA SULAKAUR, ARTIST
Mishka Sulakaur: “I’m an artist – I do graffiti and I work with kids, teaching them art. I also love to skate, because it makes me feel free. Tbilisi is full of energy, colour, and contrasts, and it often feels like the city is growing and learning with you, but it can be hard to live here. My friends and I say big dreams, small possibilities, which I think sums things up. It’s difficult to see all the old destroyed houses every day, and know that hungry people are living in them, but I’m hoping 2019 brings better days for everyone here.”
LUKA BTCHIKASHVILI, MEDICAL STUDENT
Luka Btchikashvili: “I’m a student at the medical university in Tbilisi, and I work in the city’s Success bar as a bartender and at Aromateque boutique, too. In my free time I perform: I dance, I draw, I learn new things. I’m doing it because I want to express myself and what I have to say to the world.”
“I’ve modelled for a while now and I’ve always liked it, but being part of Troublemakerz isn’t just about being with an agency – it’s like a family, full of love. It wasn’t until after the Vetements show that I started really considering myself ‘a model’. I loved the experience of walking for the label: it had a really big influence on me I think. I’d love to walk for Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Maison Margiela, or Jean Paul Gaultier, and it would be great to do Vetements again. Demna’s point of view is so different and unique, and his shows feel very important, like they’re going to be a part of history. And of course, I want to keep working with Tamra!”
“My favourite places to hang out in Tbilisi are Success bar, because I work there, and then afterwards, I love going to Bassiani. It’s like a second home for every creative person in Tbilisi, where you can drink and dance and express yourself and not be judged. But there’s another side to Georgia too: it’s full of beautiful nature, like rivers, lakes, forests, canyons, and, of course, the mountains. What don’t I like about living in Tbilisi? It’s hard to live here day-to-day, especially for a person like me. Even when you try your best to avoid trouble, you will still often get hatred from people who just don’t understand you. But I’m hoping 2019 will bring better times, more chances to express myself, and even more unforgettable memories than 2018.”