The fashion realm has come a long way. Days where people's sartorial interests were swayed exclusively by what trends mainstream fashion capitals like New York, Paris, London or Milan produced are long behind us. Here at Highsnobiety, not a week goes by where we aren't covering a designer, trend or event hailing from any given global city. From Mexico City, Lisbon and Seoul to Moscow, Copenhagen and Almaty, creativity can flourish just about anywhere; it's just a matter of having a platform to present your ideas to a wider audience.
Thanks to the Internet, unrestricted communication has permitted a consistent flow of cultural exchanges on a daily basis. Curious about what sneakers are big in China? What about Los Angeles' burgeoning fashion industry? Surely you've wondered if Ukrainians are also hyped on Supreme? The burning answers to all of your queries can be discovered at the simple scroll of a Google search or Instagram feed.
That being said, let's hone in on one of the most potent trends consuming the style zeitgeist as of late: the Post-Soviet wave. Defined by an aesthetic unique to Eastern European countries – especially during USSR times – brands like Gosha Rubchinskiy, Vetements and Balenciaga have purveyed a look that fuses mundane, proletariat clothing with contemporary couture and streetwear...and fashionistas everywhere can't get enough of it.
While the bulk of this Eastern fashion posse (Gosha, Lotta Volkova, Vsevolod “Sever” Cherepanov) comes from Russia, Demna Gvasalia, the creative mastermind behind Vetements and appointed Creative Director of Balenciaga, originates from another former Soviet country – Georgia. Born in Sukhumi, a city off the Black Sea coast, Gvasalia's native land isn't the most obvious place you think of when it comes to trendy happenings (not to mention its name often alludes to the more well-known American state), but it's slowly becoming a part of the discussion in the fashion industry.
Gvasalia's popularity has placed Georgia, or rather its capital, Tbilisi, on the radar for Westerners unlike ever before. Its principle fashion week continues to attract an increasingly international crowd and the city's retail landscape is growing, too.
During a recent trip to the Georgian capital, I asked some of the city's key fashion industry insiders what they think of Demna's success, how it's influencing the design scene and why Tbilisi could be groomed to be the next fashion hotspot.
What's your involvement in Tbilisi's fashion scene?
Grigor Devejiev, Creative Director of MBFWT: (We) are already five seasons into Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi. Officially, I'm the Creative Director of the project, but we all do a bit of multi-tasking. The main goal for us is to offer designers a platform for exposure to local and international audiences. I also work as a stylist and a photographer, mostly with Georgian designers, and create editorial which we submit to international press.
Sofia Tchkonia, Founder of MBFWT: I'm the Founder and Co-Creative Director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi.
Irakli Rusadze, Designer at Situationist: I'm a designer.
Louisa Chalatashvili, Fashion Photographer: I am a freelance photographer, but more often than not I'm working on fashion-related projects. I regularly shoot lookbooks and campaigns for local designers.
What makes Tbilisi stand out from other fashion capitals?
Grigor Devejiev: Tbilisi is like a child who was just born and is just starting to speak and take his/her first steps – in other words, Tbilisi is developing itself very quickly. I should also mention that Tbilisi is a very multicultural city that makes everything around it super impressive, given the little resources that it has. Creative people can get inspired by just having a walk around the city.
Sofia Tchkonia: It's located in an unusual country for the rest of the world. I don't think people realize how fashion-forward Tbilisi really is. Designers are always trying to find something new in what they do. They're very progressive.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): There are two factors that influence the situation. The first is that in Georgia, it's not easy to get materials for a collection. You have to try a lot for even some little detail, so it really influences the collections, because you have to think creatively for some other solutions on what you want to do. The country's Soviet past still influence people's way of thinking, especially from a creative perspective.
During USSR occupation, Georgians and Soviets were forbidden exposure to Western culture, so in order to be "fashionable," people had to create something beautiful from their everyday clothes. They had to invent themselves in everyday life. I still have a lot of old photos which could be used as references for future collections, because there are some pieces of clothing in them that show how people used to repurpose fashion into something aesthetically cool.
Louisa Chalatashvili: Post-Soviet influence is strongly felt here, but you can see that designers and youth in general look more towards the Western world. I think the synthesis of these two influences makes Tbilisi fashion really stand out, creating some kind of unique raw-meets-classy style.
How would you describe Georgian fashion in three words?
Grigor Devejiev: Fast, unpredictable, varied.
Sofia Tchkonia: It's eclectic, experimental and fresh.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): Different, interesting and with a perspective.
Louisa Chalatashvili: Good, bad and ugly.
What are the city's "it" items this season?
Grigor Devejiev: Big bags, sunglasses and “gender-neutrality.”
Sofia Tchkonia: For younger generations, Demna Gvasalia is the star designer, so they're always looking to acquire things that give off that Vetements or Balenciaga look.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): Leather trench coats...they're going to be huge everywhere soon.
Louisa Chalatashvili: Oversized blazers, bazaar bags and thigh-high boots.
Demna Gvasalia is obviously one of the more famous figures to come out of Georgia in recent years. What are your thoughts on his international success?
Grigor Devejiev: I would be crazy to say something bad about him. I love this boy.
Sofia Tchkonia: The great thing is that he's Georgian and he's not hiding it. He's kind of putting Georgia on the fashion map with his nationality. I also think that it's good that Georgians are very proud of the fact that he's Georgian and that he's achieving such great success.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): I know Demna quite well and I'm very proud of his success. He's broken a lot of barriers for other Georgian designers, I feel.
Louisa Chalatashvili: < I think what he's doing is very cool. It takes not only creativity but also a lot of hard work and marketing ventures to become such a big hit, and only a few people are truly capable of doing that.
Are you pleased with how he represents Georgian fashion?
Grigor Devejiev: I wouldn’t say that he represents Georgian fashion, he more so represents what's messy in global fashion right now. Fashion, as a whole, is a bit confused now; nobody understands how to be commercial, but Demna has found a way to be both edgy and commercially appealing.
Sofia Tchkonia: He doesn't represent Georgian fashion, I think his ideas come more from what was going on back in '90s-era USSR. It comes from his childhood I guess.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): In Demna's collections, there are always some pieces that seem quite hard for non-Eastern Europeans to understand, but for us, it's all very familiar clothing.
Louisa Chalatashvili: Representing Georgian fashion and bringing spotlight to it are two completely different things, but what Demna has done is the latter. In terms of representing local fashion, when you look at his work when he was becoming famous and works of Georgian designers from that time, you get a very contrasting image. What I would say is that it's Georgian designers who started representing Demna in their works, not the other way around.
Why do you think his aesthetic is such a phenomenon in non-Eastern countries?
Grigor Devejiev: It's new I would say. This market needed something new and Demna and his crew gave it to them.
Sofia Tchkonia: I think he completely changed the idea of fashion and brought an entirely new and different vision to it. He brought forth the personality behind what you wear, which I think is what people were missing and why they accepted it so fast. All of those sportswear pieces, bulky bags and white socks – we've seen it here before back in the '90s.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): It's that energy of the newcomer on the market, so you can feel that excitement and soul. It may become less popular once it goes super mainstream, but for now, it still feels very fresh and innovative.
Louisa Chalatashvili: When Demna started making clothes, the Western fashion scene was all about that classy-cool look, so it came as a shock to see these grungy clothes on runways at fashion week. People hadn't seen such a thing before. Things that Eastern Europeans used to see everyday turned out to be very new and exotic for the Westerners, at least the "fashion" types.
In terms of design, what do you think are the main differences between Balenciaga and Vetements?
Grigor Devejiev: Balenciaga is a collaboration with Demna and Vetements is strictly Demna. It wouldn't surprise me if Vetements hits mass market.
Sofia Tchkonia: I think he brought the same aesthetics from Vetements to Balenciaga, and you can feel that it's done by the same person, but it's still different. It has a different feeling but you can still see the person behind it. It's very personal what he does and that's why people like it I guess.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): Balenciaga is a more refined version of Vetements, but the designer's identity is present in both.
Louisa Chalatashvili: Demna can be completely unrestrained at Vetements, and he does whatever he likes, but Balenciaga has its own history and rules. So in each of his collections for Balenciaga he has paid homage to the brand's heritage in one way or another, using the color palette of Nicolas Ghesquière or of Cristobal Balenciaga.
Has his success influenced Georgia's current fashion scene? Has it made Tbilisi trendy for international people? Is it positive/negative/both?
Grigor Devejiev: It has for sure made Tbilisi trendy for international people, and many try to compare other designers to him. Some Georgian designers have even been accused of straight up copying him. But it's not a matter of it being negative or positive; what actually matters is that, for the first time, international guests have a different opinion about Georgian designers and some even have favorites. Each season more people are coming because they are actually interested in the Georgian fashion industry and MBFWT.
Sofia Tchkonia: We started our project, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, at around the same time that Demna was getting popular. It attracted a lot of people: local press, international press and buyers, all who came to discover new Georgian designers see what the city had to offer in terms of fashion. Whether he wanted to or not, his success certainly helped a lot of other Georgian designers, which is a very positive thing.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): His influence has actually introduced Georgia to the world; it's why you are here and how Georgia is just becoming on the radar, which we also have Sofia to thank for. It all plays a very important role for designers.
Louisa Chalatashvili: It's out of the question that Demna's influence is hugely felt both in Georgia and out of it. Tbilisi has come into spotlight and every season journalists and people working in fashion come here to see the next big sensation. I think this spotlight is very positive for the Georgian fashion scene and for emerging designers.
Do you think his success will last?
Grigor Devejiev: Definitely. He will not stop!
Sofia Tchkonia: You never know in fashion, it's hard to predict these things, but I hope so. He definitely left a mark in fashion history.
Irakli Rusadze (Situationist): I think so, yes.
Louisa Chalatashvili: Because of his huge influence and popularity, I think it will be next to impossible for him to become unsuccessful, especially in today's globalized world.
For more global fashion happenings, check out what's going on with Mexico City's thriving streetwear scene.