When photographer Grigor Devejiev was thinking of places to shoot an editorial showcasing emerging Georgian designers, his eye fell on the most unremarkable and mundane locations: an underpass and a cheap clothing market, a Georgian food joint and a truck of potatoes. Sporting high yellow boots, a nose ring and a daisy, a deep cut voluminous slip dress or striking silver total look, his models caught puzzled looks of the passers-by. Devejiev exposed the energy of change: the shift in visual codes of fashion and emerging youth culture movement in Georgia.
After 70 years under Soviet rule, Georgia regained independence in 1991, followed by a turbulent decade which saw civil war and economic crisis. Born in the newly independent country, a lot of young creatives on today's Tbilisi scene share memories from that time. Designer George Keburia incorporated black gun prints in his latest collection, a direct reference to the social and economical consequences of the war, but the gun prints are juxtaposed with rainbow colours, ruffles and the word Gay glittering on T-shirts and jumpers. Partly a reaction to the homophobic sentiments of conservative Georgia, partly just channelling joyful optimistic energy.
25-year-old Keburia's been running his label since 2010. Playful, dressy and edgy, his creations are popular among the new kids on the block. "When I was a teenager, people my age used to dress very plainly, probably because of the living standards of 90s Georgia," he remembers. "Nowadays, I meet lots of young stylish kids, they are always gathered in the streets of Tbilisi like a gang. They look free, independent and full of potential; you can really spot it in their style. I love how they look and act in public. They dress kitschy, trashy and classy at the same time."
Another young prodigy on the scene is Gola Damian. At 24, he's been working on his brand for five years now, but can trace its beginning to when he was just 16. Keburia's clothes evoke 70s and early 80s performative elegance, bright colours and silky fabrics paired with elements from contemporary sportswear and finished with Bowie-style ankle boots. "I always try to take classic shapes of clothing and add sporty details to create something new, and I love creating kitch," he says. "I think the style of Georgian youth really changed in the last three years: it became more underground and brave, people experiment more."
Both Keburia and Damian started out in fashion in the circumstances which could seem extraordinary: a few seasons into their own brands, they are still in their mid-20s, while in the UK, Europe and US it takes fashion designers much longer to go through education, internships and establishing themselves in the industry. With the Georgian fashion industry still in its early years, a new crop of young brands is emerging -- the only question is how many of them will manage to survive. "It's easy to become a fashion designer in Georgia", Damian deadpans. "But it's very difficult to develop."
Tatuna Nikolaishvili who started her brand in 2010 at the age of 23, agrees. "Making it in Georgian fashion is not a hard thing to do. The hardest task is to maintain in it", she says. "Georgians adore fashion, and for many of them it has become a lifestyle. But having a good taste is not enough to become a designer. That requires a lot of hard work and dedication." Nikolaishvili's designs are more restrained, graphic, focused on the feel and movement of the garment as much as the image. "Some of the designs requires courage in order to wear them. Femininity is integral to every design but some of my creations are pieces of art, not for everyone."
Established in 2012, Atelier Kikala is one of the examples of commercial success in Georgia. The brand's striking graphic elements, paired with innovative use of materials, has attracted the likes of Miroslava Duma and Sky Ferreira. It also managed to benefit from the links Georgia still has with other post-Soviet countries, as a large volume of orders comes from there. Creative director Lado Bokuchava admits that there are both benefits and drawbacks to working in Georgia. "It's much cheaper to produce here than in other countries", she says. "But at the same time, there are no factories to produce accessories, like bags, and it's also difficult to work with prints because of the lack of special textile printers. These small technical problems really limit the work of the designer."
The lack of infrastructure, particularly in terms of production, seems to be the most common concern for emerging designers in Georgia. MATÉRIEL uses the heritage of the Soviet textile industry to fill the niche. MATÉRIEL was created in 2012 on the foundations of House of Fashion, one of the biggest textile producers in the USSR, which dates back to 1949. "We provide designers with everything they need to create a collection: production facilities, raw materials, labour," a spokesman from MATÉRIEL commented. "We can meet almost every need the designer might have." MATÉRIEL's collections are now sold in nine countries, and the company is currently working with 28-year old Tiko Paksashvili and her label Tiko Paksa, 29-year-old Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili and 32-year-old Lika Chitaia.
In the last two years the rise of Demna Gvasalia on the fashion scene has put emerging Georgian fashion scene in the spotlight. Although Gvasalia left the country at the early age with his family after the start of the civil war, a lot of emerging creatives seek links between his work and what they are trying to create in Tbilisi. "Demna Gvasalia is a very special Georgian mind for us. We love how he thinks and works with fabrics and the fashion industry," Irakli Rusadze and David Giorgadze of the brand SITUATIONISTS, explain. "Everyone have to thank him for giving Georgia such a boost and Georgian designers a chances to show themselves." SITUATIONISTS is only a year old and shares an idea of international cultural links with Vetements: when the brand was created, David was in Berlin, and Irakli lived in Tbilisi. Together they are trying to create international contemporary look, inspired by what their peers wear on the streets of Tbilisi. "The new generation here is very informed, which we adore, and their style is very free, very individual," they add, explaining what attracts to Tbilisi street style.
At the same time, not everything in the Georgian fashion scene started with Demna Gvasalia. Gvantsa Janashia is among the pioneers of the industry, and still in the forefront of shaping its look with her take on contemporary femininity reimagined in a classic androgynous way. At the height of the West's obsession with 90s pop music and vintage pictures of Kate Moss, her work also reminds us that the 90s in Georgia were much darker times, which laid a foundation for the renaissance we're witnessing now. "I have been working in Georgia since the 90s", she recalls. "Back then we were more enthusiastic and that was the main motivation for our future business. Georgia has experienced hard and dark times so the start was very hard, the fashion industry did not exist at all, designers were not able to realise their abilities. Bit by bit we have developed and I think that now we are a little part of the global fashion industry."
Janashia is enthusiastic about the future, both because of designers and their growing audience. "Youngsters' taste has changed during the last years, they have their individual views about fashion. Nowadays you meet lots of indie, gothic, skaters, punk kids as well as classy lovers in the streets of Tbilisi," she adds. "They are the ones making the revolution in Georgian fashion".
Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Photography and styling Grigor Devejiev
Assistant Aka Prodiashvili. Make-up Christina Regini, Lucia Devejieva. Models Natalie Raizer, Marita Gogodze, Dina Farfalia, Lika Rigvava (IC Models Management)