Georgia is all about its fusion cred: the earliest churches of Christendom at the ancient Persian borderlands, its unique cursive alphabet used for prolific Medieval poetic heritage, early adoption of cinematography thanks to close ties with France, and a renowned tradition of hospitality. Given the right conditions, when Georgians “mix and match”, the cultural output is qualitatively impressive.
For her spring-summer 2017 collection presented at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, designer Nino Babukhadia set out to amalgamate the social dystopia of 1990s Harlem and the contrarian spirit of the 1960s France. Inspiration came from a cult classic Juice featuring Tupac Shakur, Queen Latifah, Dr. Dre… and Bernardo Bertolucci’s notorious NC-17 rated melodrama The Dreamers: a tall order even for a seasoned designer. Given the overtly emotional charge of its premise, the collection missed the opportunity for an explicit social message. Which leads to a critical conundrum: the well-crafted garments are wearable but why?
Why stir up a narrative that doesn’t deliver? This goes for many designers in the emerging fashion markets, where any overly complex, layered narrative could be perceived as an attempt to reach out (or, pander) to the international consumer and mainstream fashion media. However, such designers often forget one simple fact: we live in the world where instant gratification and accessibility are the king and the queen, but not at the expense of creativity. Indeed, the stakes are higher today than ever before for any/every designer to move the fashion industry forward. And Georgia-born designers have managed to do just that; look no further than Demna Gvasalia or David Koma, both originally hailing from Tbilisi.
Babukhadia’s five-year track record on the volatile post-Soviet fashion circuit, impeccable garment construction skills, fine styling, and strong client base – all point to the fact that right conditions for her international success are finally coming together. However, transitioning into a global marketplace, and sustaining in it, will take more creative accountability and even stronger social message.