Balenciaga and Mugler, Europe’s fashion mavericks, never set foot in a place that now brings them together in an unlikely bond. Successors to both these style icons hail from Georgia, the mountainous nation in the Caucuses, not the Southern US state.
Over the past decade Georgia has exported two of globally recognized fashion designers: Demna Gvasalia, creative director of Balenciaga and a de facto leader of the influential Vetemens fashion collective based in Paris; and David Koma, artistic director of Thierry Mugler, as well as of his eponymous brand based in London. The capital city Tbilisi with its experimental fashion scene, created a perfect environment to give rise to such talents. Now it’s on the radar of many style headhunters. The recently completed 2016 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi proves the point.
Located at the historic and cultural intersections of East and West, Georgia is profoundly exotic and modern in equal measures. On one side there are fascinating ancient ruins, on the other the rising skyscrapers by world’s famous architects. Change is omni-present and it is wholeheartedly embraced by most echelons of the society, fashion industry including.
On the plus side, most of Tbilisi’s rising talent produces their garments domestically. The drawback is that many local designers make a common mistake associated with young brands from emerging markets:they overinvest in paying tribute to the richness of national heritage. It may put them on nascent local fashion scene, but keeps them off the global commerce map. As a consequence, the majority of clients remain Georgians themselves with affluent Russians and Kazakh in the mix. For those striving for international attention, and, ultimately, for trade clients, the balance of experimental fashion could lean more toward functional fashion design vs. ‘souvenir costume.’ This is a formula that still eludes many designers in Georgia and beyond. But change is coming, and fast.