Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi is on the rise. Ever since Georgian local Demna Gvasalia took hold of the global fashion conversation — first with Vetements, then of course, with Balenciaga — attention has crystalized on the post-Soviet city.
Over the past week, a new crop of designers showed in the Georgian capital. There was Situationist — the rising star who has dressed Bella Hadid and others in his directional separates — as well as several even lesser-known designers. They each brought a very specific brand of playful irreverence and personal meaning to the main show venue, a Soviet Circus. Here are our top designers of the week — the ones with the potential to become the next Tbilisi stars.
Lado Bokuchava showed in an experimental primary school for this season's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi. The property looked like Hogwarts's Georgian counterpart, and there was a magic to the clothes, as well. "My inspiration always comes from classic silhouettes, like [from the] '30s, more vintage silhouettes, always feminine," said Bokuchava. "I'm always trying to mix this with '80s underground stars." Think: Nina Hagen, David Bowie, and Siouxsie and the Banshees in all their glory fit into '30s and '40s tailoring. A pale green skirt suit with a cutout slit on the right side and an exaggerated '80s structured jacket, an oversize ruffled red plastic cocktail dress, and an orange-and-red striped mini blazer with outsized sleeves were three especially bold offerings. "It's classic suits with some crazy [elements], like super big boots," said Bokuchava. It would be easy to see these wares at Dover Street or Opening Ceremony, not to mention on a plethora of artsy types.
Celia Valverde is a standout of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, and not just because she travels from Spain to show in the buzzy city. (Valverde is a part of Mercedes's International Designer Exchange Program that sends designers to each other's countries to share their collections). "Fantasy is one of the favorite words for defining the brand," said the artist, holding up a shimmering pale pink paillette suit before the show. "We always have the same inspiration for all the collections: North Africa in the '60s, and my grandmother. My grandmother is from Africa. [The clothes are] very '60s, with a lot of color, with volume — African. Africa is very colorful and powerful." The fun and almost couture-like elements (the detailing on just one tulle skirt took a week of handwork) give Valverde's work true distinction.
Situationist caught international attention when Bella Hadid wore one of designer Irakli Rusadz's looks from several seasons ago. Now, the designer says he is hoping to "show Georgia with more depth and show our culture," said Irakli Rusadz, "that it is more than Soviet." He had initially planned to show Fall 2018 in a high-security women’s prison (logistical challenges made it impossible). "In Tbilisi, there are gang problems and it is very important [to talk about this] right now," he explained after his show, which included sophisticated professional separates and buttery leather coating. "There was a time when Georgia had no solution to see trends. Even today, we don't have many boutiques. But I think this also helped artists because you don't have many trends or fabrics. This is a reason to look for more. I think Georgia is the best country for artists."
Georgian designer Lako Bukia was trained in London and New York, but recently, came home. "Since I came to Georgia all of my collections were inspired by Georgia street style, but now, this one is about my family," she explained. "Pictures and memories of what my family has been. Even the location links back to my family. It's a very old building built in Soviet Times and it's the same, nothing has changed." The very real and genuine starting point could be felt in the clothes, which included shirting fit with prints of Bukia's parents in the 1960s, neon leggings and silk suiting in vibrant coloring.
Nino Babukhadia won this year's Mercedes-Benz International Designer Exchange Program. The Georgian designer, who founded her namesake label in 2012, has looked to The Dreamers, classical Italian architecture, and the Sicilian coastline in the past. Her aesthetic has been characterized as quite feminine, especially given her penchant for beaded embroideries. This season, however, was all about androgyny and took inspiration from the war photography of Otto Dix. "It was two genders on one person," said the designer after the show, which gave us strong monochromatic minimal looks and showed earlier this year in Madrid as a part of the International Designer Exchange Program.
Designer Anouki Areshidze looked to plastic and Japanese flowers for Fall 2018. The collection is all about eveningwear: Sparkling off-the-shoulder sequined gowns, classic LBDs lit up with silver sequined detailing on the neckline and sleeves, and a burgundy latex bustier with a bell skirt were highlights. Areshidze (who can be found on Moda Operandi) says it's all about a mix of fabrics. "And sparkle — it's my favorite thing," she said.
Disclosure: Mercedes-Benz paid for my travel and accommodations to attend and cover the event.