Starting from the late 1950s and continuing to this very day, Georgia has demonstrated a surprisingly diverse and upbeat fashion sense. Tbilisi boasts being a fashion(able) city all throughout modern, post-WWII history. The veteran generation was good at dress-making, with almost every household owning a sewing machine and making their own clothes.
This later, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, grew into a mainstream trend of professional tailor-making. The city was peppered with ateliers and fashion salons where talented dressmakers, tailors, and designers tried to recreate the best of Paris, Milan and London fashion, seen in smuggled foreign magazines. Adapting the European trends from behind the Iron Curtain to their own reality, Georgian fashion wizards added elements and created versions influenced by their rich cultural and historic heritage. Numerous fabric shops in Tbilisi and other big towns were stacked with fabrics from all over the Soviet bloc and popular dress patterns circulated from fashionista to fashionista.
This culture survived through the darkest ‘90s, when civil wars and ethnic conflicts cloaked everyone in black. The dominance of black, grey and khaki, characteristic of the social, physical and political distress of society, was broken by the new millennium, with its new hopes and electric future. Optimistic social and economic moves, brought about by the changing political reality of the first decade, encouraged the emergence of creative industries.
Although Georgia is physically located on the fringes of the global fashion map, it has caught the attention of many connoisseurs from fashion capitals. A country with a small population, and virtually no state funding for art and creativity, is punching way above its weight in terms of trendy fashion. Georgia’s biggest annual event, Tbilisi Fashion Week, aka Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, is a good example of this, and attracts the savviest buyers from countries far and wide. This must-see event is one of the highlights of fashion life in both Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The glamorous world-class runway gathers new and trendy designers showcasing the best of the creative potential of the new generation of clothes designers and receives fantastic international press coverage. No wonder Georgia has been dubbed ‘fashion capital of Eastern Europe’ by the Observer’s Dena Silver.
Over the last decade, millennials and the tech-gen have infused Georgian fashion with fresh blood. Teenagers express themselves through their dress-sense. Style is a statement. Mood is a colour. Rebels and conformists, traditionalists and cosmopolitans, new goths, punks and vintage lovers choose outfits to demonstrate where they feel they fit in and where they don’t. New brands and designers are springing up like mushrooms after rain. They are daring and free-spirited, they combine Oriental and Middle Eastern lines with cool, European colours and practical fabrics.
Street and ‘trash’ fashion are the soups-de-jour of today’s Tbilisi. Instagram influencers are raising the bar for style icons worldwide. As Elsa de Berker wrote in Fashionista, the fashion industry’s agenda-setting online publication, Georgia has “the most stylish Instagram influencers you can (and should!) be following on Instagram, and if current trends are any indication, the things these ladies are wearing today are likely to pop up on runways around the world in the not-too-distant future.”
It seems like fashion tourists coming to Tbilisi will need to buy an extra suitcase after a highly recommended ‘treasure hunt’ through Georgia’s artsy boutiques, where you could find anything from a vintage Paul Smith shirt, sourced from an out-of-city second-hand warehouse, to catwalk-couture Avtandil at Prêt-à-Porter prices.