“Do you know that Georgian is the only language in the world still based on its indigenous alphabet? It is not part of any group, singular.”
My conversation partner is tireless and adamant when it comes to defending Georgia’s uniqueness as a greenhouse for cultural fusion as well as regional epicenter for winemaking. KETEVAN BOCHORISHVILI is the Vice Minister at Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, and the scene is an afterparty for the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi at famous Funicular restaurant. Right place at the right time: the mountainous country and its capital are becoming the latest fashion industry success story. Following the arrival of Georgia-born designers DEMNA GVASALIA and DAVID KOMA on major international runways, all eyes are on this small nation nestled at the centuries old intersection of east and west.
A certain it-factor is not the only pre-condition for emergence of a new fashion capital: continued local and international media attention, interest of buyers across all market segments, self-governance of the creative industry, and, perhaps, most importantly, existence of a reputable platform to present collections at least twice a year (while seasons still matter). In between shows, I reached out to SOFIA TCHKONIA, the Executive Producer of MBFW Tbilisi, to discuss her team’s efforts to solidify and sustain the local fashion business amid competitive commercial demands and an unforgiving global spotlight.
The idea behind fashion weeks is to seamlessly connect designers with…
(Tchkonia) …clients? That worked alright before. We’ve been doing a kind of fashion charity projects forever: study abroad programs for young designers, contests, awards. Georgian designers sell quite well locally. We are seeing new concept stores and collective showrooms. But it is not so difficult to be successful in a small country: everyone is excited, everything is great, everybody is so talented. There was no real criticism. We saw the potential, the need for a platform to show their work internationally and connect to global buyers and media. I thought Georgian designers were ready to make their mark and Mercedes Benz agreed.
Why invest in a fashion week in Tbilisi?
(Tchkonia) To go to London or New York costs a fortune and no one there has real time for young brands. Especially, if you don’t know what you’re doing there. Georgian designers didn’t have the right connection to that world. Thanks to Mercedes Benz, participation is free of charge for all the designers, because they need to learn it’s not only about the shows, celebrities, good time and celebration. We aim to elevate them to the next level in marketing and commerce.
Seems not only Georgian designers want to take advantage of this opportunity!
(Tchkonia) Yes, we can think of Tbilisi as a regional capital because we receive requests from designers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic and other places. They see our guest list and are impressed. It can be hard to get attention in Moscow or Paris. Here is more relaxed and accessible.
What did you mean by “no real criticism”?
(Tchkonia) We are missing some elements from the fashion cycle. For example, there are no full-fledged Georgian fashion magazines. Maybe there was no need for it before, I don’t know. But it means there are no fully-dedicated fashion journalists in Georgia. People write political reports or about sports and then come to look at fashion. There is a disconnect. We have to give a lot of information (and training) to prepare everyone to support the fashion industry as a whole. Also, we have some fashion design programs in Tbilisi, but creation is one thing and marketing, promotion, sales and management is another. We started to work with the government now to address this as a system, to bring fashion education to Georgia. Because, the real challenge begins after the clothes are made. How do we cultivate the entire industry from start to finish? It takes a country!
Indeed, looking at the spring-summer 2017 shows presented during the week, one could see creative talent and commercial potential of quite a few brands highlighting the sophisticated glamour that has come to define Tbilisi street style scene. A scene that is widely covered by Vogue US and Vogue UK.
The event brought awareness to home grown trailblazers: AVTANDIL with solid street art aesthetics, hipster-proof quirkiness of ANOUKI, cross-cultural experiments of NINO BABUKHARIA, classic monochrome studies by DATUNA SULIKASHVILI or avant-garde minimalism of GEORGE KEBURIA, among others. Thanks to the Mercedes Benz partnership clout, their work is now fully accessible in seasonal runway databases of Vogue.com and NowFashion.com. That is a definitive step towards global exposure. The promotion of creativity and innovation has always been important to the iconic car maker. The symbiotic relation between Mercedes-Benz and fashion has been extremely successful around the world from its inception in Sydney to NYC to Moscow.