Before Demna Gvasalia launched Vetements in 2012, Georgia (the country, not the American state) was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Headlines around the designer's home in the former Soviet stronghold centered around political corruption, war and fiscal instability thanks to a number of violent disputes with Russia — many of which remain unresolved to this day. Georgia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991, but several of its territories still remain under Russian military occupation following the Russo-Georgian War in 2008.
Gvsalia's famously subversive label came at just the right moment in his country’s checkered history. At Vetements, he reclaimed the symbols of his communist youth, rebranding Eastern Bloc fashion as fresh, cool and interesting. After capturing the hearts (and wallets) of fashion's avant-garde elite, he helped turn the media's attention to Georgia once again — only this time, it was for all the right reasons.
Gvsalia hasn't lived in Eastern Europe for over a decade, but the positive impact of his continued success is widespread within his native community. Because of him, members of the press willingly flock thousands of miles to check out upcoming talent in the capital city, Tbilisi. In particular, editors are looking for other budding designers showing as a part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The seasonal event now runs for five days straight twice a year and boasts a competitive schedule to rival that of any other major fashion week.
Proceedings wrapped on the Spring 2018 collections this week, and this time around, nearly 50 brands staged either a runway show or presentation. Each day, optimistic journalists, buyers and social media influencers witnessed Georgian talents carving out their own identities. In place of capitalizing on the popularity of Gvasalia's "It" kid aesthetic, the majority of the strongest collections there were refreshingly Vetements-free.
Womenswear label Tamara Kopaliani's conceptual performance inside Tbilisi's National Scientific Library kicked the week off with promise. The seven-year-old brand played with fabrics inspired by a colorful ceremonial mosaic located on a vast wall in the early Soviet-era institution. Upstairs in the same building, of-the-moment designer Gola Damian showed a delightfully retro range of men's and women's looks in a light-filled room. Standouts of note included a disco ball purse, a smattering of '70s granny crochet knits and a slew of graphic tees. Damian dressed all of the male models in leather skirts — no doubt a middle finger to Georgia's lagging acceptance of LGBTQ rights and gender equality.
Elsewhere in the city, one of the country's most successful designers proved why Georgian fashion isn't being ignored overseas. Situationist by Irakli Rusadze counts Bella Hadid amongst its fans and showed abroad earlier this year at Milan Fashion Week. For Spring 2018, the designer staged a buzzy event at Tbilisi's biggest techno club, Bassiani. The collection's strongest looks focused on leather and were accessorized with oversize bags emblazoned with the Sega gaming system logo, which entered mainstream consciousness in the early '90s.
As another young label tipped for fame, Nicolas Grigorian's clever play on a wild western theme was a major draw amongst resident creatives. On the other end of the spectrum, home-favorite Anouki's sequin-heavy offering at Expo Georgia attracted the city's social set. Designer Anouki Areshidze is wife to the mayor of Tbilisi and a local celebrity — a fact that can't hurt her sales at Moda Operandi.
Throughout the duration of the week, accessories — footwear in particular — proved to be a natural sell for homegrown Georgian excellency. The Caucasus country has a long history in shoemaking that can be traced back decades to its outer border with Armenia. At Irma de Flore, a wedged, platform flip-flop was given the luxury treatment, while designer Anuka Keburia's handmade, sharply square-toed boots felt like what's missing in our closets for next season. At Blikvanger, Eloshi, George Keburia and Nina Zarqua, footwear offered an opportunity to have fun: The latter revealed an easy-to-wear lineup of patterned, patent, and maribou-trimmed shoes inspired by icons Mia Farrow, and Jane Birkin. On the menswear front, Aznauri's butter-soft leather sandals were outstanding.
An unfamiliar name on the show schedule was Synthesiac, new for Spring 2018. Founded by Tea Gelashvili, the brand gets it name from synesthesia — a sensory phenomenon in which people see characters or music as inherently colored. Originally from the capital, Gelashvili operates out of Milan for the most part, working full-time at a design studio employed by brands like Jil Sander and Marni. Her debut collection shone brightest in the outerwear category: Using patent leather from Italy, the pastel-colored jackets were a clever adult interpretation of a coat the designer's three-year old daughter might wear. Shrewdly positioned at entry-level to the luxury market, Synthesiac retail prices will range from as low as $194 to as high as $695. Showing at fashion week in Georgia over Milan was another smart business move by Gelashvili. Speaking candidly, she extended her gratitude to Gvasalia for turning the spotlight on Tbilisi.