What do you think of when you think of fashion week? New York? London? Milan? Paris? Most of the world turns to the Big Four as guiding lights in the field of fashion, but smaller locales are emerging that are turning out some of the most exciting new designers in the industry. To an outsider, the Eurasian country of Georgia might not be one they instantly associate with cutting-edge fashion, but Sofia Tchkonia singlehandedly set out to change that. As the founder of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, Tchkonia has worked hard to not only bring an international audience of buyers, editors, and VIPs to Tbilisi for fashion week, but also to promote the country’s incredible cache of talented fashion designers.
It was a something out of nothing, proposition. Prior to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, Georgia had a dearth of creative talent, however, when Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia went from the wunderkind behind Vetements to the radically successful Creative Director of Balenciaga, the spotlight was suddenly on the tiny country. Is Georgia where the next Demna was going to be found?
Tchkonia gambled that the hidden talent of Georgia would prove to be much more than just a line-up of Balenciaga copycats. She was right. The effort she has put into nurturing creative talent through her BeNext Art and Fashion Foundation and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi has uncovered such brilliant designers as George Keburia, Anouki Kaladze of Anouki, Natuka Karkashadze of N-DUO, Tamuna Ingorokva of Ingorokva, and Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili and Lado Bokuchava of Matériel. Her tremendous (practically solo) efforts earned her a coveted spot on the Business of Fashion 500 list.
On November 19, 2020, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi is back again, taking a new form. The fashion industry globally was hit hard by the pandemic, but smaller industries suffered the most. In order to make the most of its momentum, Fashion Week Tbilisi will show via a digital-only platform, which includes 20 designers showcasing their latest collections to a global audience. That’s right. If you’ve ever dreamed of going to fashion week, this one is free, open to the public, and accessible (through the link above) from the comfort of your couch. In preparation for this thrilling event, Savoir Flair sat down with Sofia Tchkonia to discover everything that’s in store for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi.
You used to run everything almost single-handedly. As Tbilisi Fashion Week has grown, has your team grown with it? What’s your support system like?
Yes, I’ve started almost alone as at the beginning. Not many people believed that fashion from Georgia can be interesting. Now we have a small but very professional team. Also, as we’ve opened and are starting new initiatives, more people joined us. I select people very carefully.
What kind of needs do an emerging generation of Georgian designers have? Are there education, internship, and mentorship opportunities in Georgia? How can the industry/government step up to support them as they try to grow their companies?
Unfortunately. there is not much support in Georgia for the creative community, especially now. We have to find the solutions ourselves. That’s why we came up with the idea to create the Georgian Fashion Foundation. Talents here need everything: funds, education, internship, and mentorship opportunities and when the restrictions globally are lifted, we will work intensively towards this direction.
What history does Georgia have when it comes to artisan craftsmanship, textile-making, manufacturing, etc? How big is the fashion industry there?
Georgia has very strong and interesting cultural heritage. Artisans were really strong, we had silk manufacturing, gold, textile, wool, and much more. Unfortunately, after so many economic and political changes in the country, it’s not functioning anymore. We have fashion designers who run their businesses on their own, have their own ateliers. It’s too early to call it an industry, but we are moving forward to that.
What challenges did you face in staging the event during a pandemic? How have designers adapted to the new normal?
It was really difficult. The pandemic started just before Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi was to start in May. Everything was ready, guests were invited, and we had to cancel the event. For this season we’ve decided to do an online platform so designers did not have to skip the season. Not many designers could adapt to the new normal and hopefully this spring we will have the chance to organize the physical shows in our new space.
What kind of innovations have you seen from the designers participating in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi’s first digital-only platform?
Innovations, hard to say, but the designers filmed their presentations. We all tried to make it interesting and creative.
Who are some of the up and coming designers we should keep an eye out for?
I cannot name one designer, all of them are interesting and worth to follow.
Below, Savoir Flair has tapped three of the designers we’re most excited at seeing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi.