meet the 25-year-old designer behind georgia's next buzzy brand

25-year-old designer on the Demna effect, Eastern European optimism, and the appeal of ill-fitting suits

by Hannah Ongley
Dec 15 2016, 11:10pm

Irakli Rusadze was born within just a few months of the Soviet Union collapse in 1991. The now-25-year-old Georgian designer started working in fashion around 10 years ago, before Demna Gvasalia (it's impossible to talk about Georgian designers without mentioning him) even landed at Maison Martin Margiela. But while the head of Vetements and Balenciaga plays with Eastern European aesthetics in a rather general sense, there's something deeply Georgian about Rusadze's burgeoning brand Situationist and its riffs on staples of the post-Soviet uniform: including thigh-high stilettos, kitschy floral dresses, and ill-fitting suit jackets. One of the standout looks from the spring/summer 17 collection he showed at Tbilisi Fashion Week evoked the flag t-shirts selling for 10 Lari (less if you haggle) at any souvenir store in the Georgian capital. There were no slogans in the collection, but if there were they probably wouldn't be in Cyrillic.

Rusadze was probably too young to remember when bootleg sportswear and Titanic VHS tapes first flooded Eastern Europe from the west in the 90s. He's not the only one thinking up creative ways around the country's lack of quality materials and modern technologies: the fashion house Materiel fosters young talent by uniting young designers to sell their collections under one roof, while collaboration queen Ria Keburia provides platforms to new artists each season. We talked to Rusadze about the importance of teamwork, the appeal of non-traditional women, and finding optimism in the aesthetics of capitalism and economic crisis.

You started your brand around 10 years ago. I heard that there are still no Georgian fashion magazines in 2016, which sounds crazy. How were you consuming fashion as a teenage designer?
It's unfortunate but even today there is a lack of fashion magazines. During the time I started working as designer almost a decade ago, it was really hard to follow the trends of other designers and brands even inside Georgia. I was traveling a lot, especially in Europe, so I was buying everything I needed to follow the global fashion scene there and bringing it back to Georgia. Today, I guess Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is doing similar work for Georgian designers by bringing a lot of important and interesting guests in the country. Interest in the Georgian fashion scene has risen dramatically within last few years.

Do you remember when you were first motivated to start a fashion brand? What was your first step into the industry?
I don't think I can say the exact time when my interest in fashion was sparked. I think it happened during elementary school or even earlier. I started to work as an assistant of different designers at the age of 14 or 15. I find designing clothes as interesting as constructing them. I'm working on all of my patterns by myself.

How have you seen Georgian fashion change in the years since starting Situationist?
As Demna Gvasalia became a familiar name in the fashion industry, interest towards Georgian fashion designers has increased dramatically. I see that more and more as international fashion experts, buyers, and media are becoming interested in the Georgian fashion market. That of course makes me very happy and also stimulates me as a designer.

What is difficult about designing in a post-Soviet country? Do you often find it difficult to source materials or have to compromise on production?
I think working in a post-Soviet reality as an artist is twice as interesting an experience. On the one hand, it is really hard to find necessary materials and technologies inside the country. If I need something very concrete that is impossible to find in Georgia, sometimes I have to go abroad to find what I need. In Europe, for example, it's so easy to find whatever you need in a shop, but here in Georgia, you actually have to go material "hunting" and communicate with people who do not have any ties with the fashion industry. I think this is inspirational, because it makes my work more down to earth and also destroys possibility of being stuck in the fashion industry bubble.

The white Georgian flag singlet layered over a t-shirt seemed to be a solid favorite on Instagram. What inspired this particular piece?
Of course, the country I was born and raised in is influencing my work. I think the Georgian culture and character is very visible in my work. This particular look is not only the flag of the country, but is also my position and state of mind about Georgia. I'm far from being a nationalist, but I do agree that, while we are small and have a lot of problems, at the same time, during the history of this country, we were always craving to be free, to be independent. The character of my collection is also based on this underlying sentiment.

There were a lot of exaggerated, corporate silhouettes at your show. George Keburia's show in a conference room at the Holiday Inn had a similar twisted office vibe, and of course Demna is known for them. Why are you personally so drawn to this aesthetic?
The rough and unusual forms that I'm using underline the independence, strength, and freedom of women. In a small country like Georgia, especially in rural communities, women that do not fit a traditional model of femininity are more likely to be vilified and this vilification has deep historical roots in Georgian history. Lately, I've been reading an interesting piece of work by the inspiring South African social scientist Stanley Cohen, named "Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers," where I was able to find an answer behind this highly emotional reaction to powerful women in societies like Georgia. A light motive of my collection is my response towards historical suppression of women starting from the Middle Ages and Salem witch trials in colonial America to modern day Georgia and other parts of the world.

Collaboration seems to be very important to the Georgian fashion scene, particularly with regard to Materiel and Ria Keburia. Are there any other local designers who you admire or would want to work with?
I would definitely agree with Material and Ria Keburia. Collaboration is indeed very important for the Georgian fashion scene. In order to gain more experience and be more professional in my field of work, I have worked with couple of leading designers in Georgia.

What is one thing people don't realize about the fashion scene in Georgia?
Because of the geographical location of the country, Georgian designers have to work four times as hard to achieve success or international recognition. I do not want to speak for the whole industry, but on a happy note, I personally think that it has stimulated us to create high quality products that can compete on the international fashion scene.


Text Hannah Ongley
Photography David Giorgadze

irakli rusadze