While the fashion industry’s power to declare particular silhouettes, colours and eras on or off trend feels par of the course, it’s ability to attract attention toward entire nations is somewhat more exceptional. In the age of post-soviet hype, eyes have been shifted beyond the old iron curtain, and in particular, to Georgia. The eastern European country is home to Vetements founder and Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasilia, whose explosion into the world of high fashion is proving to have lasting impact. Gvasilia’s immense presence has provoked industry-wide curiosity about the country that shaped his aesthetic identity. After declaring independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia saw geopolitical tensions reach a boiling point, bringing unrest and even civil war. But the new millennium has brought peace and with it, a new generation of creatives keen to establish their own cultural legacy.
As a result, no city is more harmonious with fashion’s current landscape than the country’s flourishing capital, Tbilisi. The extra attention it’s been awarded by Gvasilia directed journalists, editors and influencers has shed a light on its role as a fertile breeding ground for experimental and avant-garde fashion. Talented designers are emerging left and right, representing contemporary visions of the crossroads between east and west.
One of these creative trailblazers is stylist and gallery owner Gvantsa Jishkariani, who has come to embody her city’s blossoming fashion scene. As a tried and true local, Jishkariani is a member of a tight-knit community of designers, with their sights set on Tbilisi’s future. Her work as a stylist is an ode to the vision of the new generation—fittingly, she teamed up with photographer Daniel Adhami to showcase the best works from a series of up and coming designers— Gola Damian, Tiko Paksa, Tamara Kopaliani, George Keburia, Tamra, Nicolas Grigorian and Lado Bokuchava—whose designs express a contemporary Georgian identity. INDIE recently spoke to the fashion insider about what obstacles and assets the city presents to this burgeoning industry—and why she thinks Tbilisi is such a hotbed of sartorial innovation.
How do you feel you’ve seen Tbilisi, and the world’s reputation of it, change in recent years?
I feel that Demna Gvasalia played a more important role in developing interest toward Georgia than any political agenda or marketing strategy. He’s reached people and focused their attention toward this country’s past and present. Also there’s now a generation of young people who have the power to rule their own life who don’t live in fear of any kind of terror. I think the rest of the world thinks of Georgia as a war-torn-dressed-in-oversized-jackets-kids-dancing under the music till sunrise kind of place – but there’s so much more than that…
…more than the “post-soviet” hype that has erupted in recent years.
I think it’s a normal switch of focus in the fashion world. Once far east was on trend, then American, Western Europe and now it’s post-soviet countries. Almost everyone around me embraces this trend, it’s so easy for us to relate to. It requires no effort of us to follow this hype and pull out something so shockingly cool for the west, but some of my friends, and almost me admittedly, are tired of it. I do believe this might be the most humanistic trend that’s happened yet, because it gives opportunity for every kind of bullshit to be fashionable in the eyes of the public. No one can really go “wrong”. But at the same time, I don’t want to be associated with the past—particularly a time that was unpleasant to be born into, and one I barely remember.
How would you describe the personality of Georgian style, in comparison to major fashion cities like New York or Paris?
It’s eclectic, let’s say. I rarely see people here dressing in an interesting way. I don’t think I’m too critical or that I’m looking for people dressed crazily, it’s just that there are few people who view clothing as more than cover. In general, it’s pretty boring. Youngers are the most fun—they dress like other young Europeans, with more second hand—but the way our older generation dresses is so unattractive. In New York or Paris or Madrid, older people care about what they’re wearing. Here, people have huge insecurities, moral and ethical norms are somehow weirdly limiting and I think that’s reflected in style.
Would you say this up and coming generation of designers are pulling from similar sources of
inspiration, or developing a similar style?
I would say there are lots of 80’s notes in most of the collections and at this point there are some similar shapes and trends. I’d love to see more sexiness and maybe more futuristic points of view in their collections. Sometimes a particular aesthetic gains a lot of traction, and then everyone follows that trend, but there’s a huge world of other themes to be inspired by.
Georgia’s young designers are gaining a reputation for being collectively oriented. Would you say the design community is supportive of one another?
The young designers definitely are, most of them we shot in this editorial. They’re good friends, some of them worked together at a fashion house at the beginning of their career, some of them even share showrooms.
What are some challenges of being a designer specifically in Georgia?
Technical difficulties present a big challenge for Georgian designers. It’s hard to get materials, fabrics, decor, or anything really professional here. It’s definitely hard to both produce and ship. But I think the hardest thing is to not get stuck with one idea or with one source of inspiration. For example, if you do something and everyone likes it, it doesn’t mean it has to be the same for 4000 seasons in a row. Everyone needs to fantasise and think more.
What effect do you think Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi has had on the growing industry?
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week has played an important role in promoting Georgian fashion and the country itself, by partnering with numerous magazines and fashion bloggers. It’s important for our designers to have visibility, press and obviously buyers. I’m more than happy it exists.
Were you always interested in fashion and styling? Would you say most Georgians are?
I think so—In my hometown, at school, I had no computer or internet. I watched and listened to so many shows , interviews and reviews that I became a kind of fashion encyclopaedia. After the explosion of the internet, and after making my own money, I started using more and more vintage clothes, shoes and bags. I would never say that I followed any trend or recipe. I just listen and intuition is a big thing for me. I wouldn’t say most, but more and more Georgians are interested in fashion, mainly because of the international feedback and interest. They see that it sounds and looks interesting to foreigners, so they’re paying more attention.
Photography DANIEL ADHAMI
Styling GVANTSA JISHKARIANI