New location and cultural focus drive reinvention at MBFW Tbilisi

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Barbara Santamaria
May 20, 2020
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Amid uncertainty and unanswered questions about the future of retail, the world’s top fashion capitals are being forced to reinvent their fashion weeks. Technology and a shift towards digital formats allow them to plan ahead without the constraints of social distancing measures. But for lesser known fashion weeks, the challenge of reinvention is even harder. The fight to earn the respect of the international fashion community was a tough one even before Covid-19. Amidst a global pandemic, it’s a challenge only the brave will accept.

MBFW Tbilisi

Among them is Sofia Tchkonia, the entrepreneur who launched Tbilisi Fashion Week in 2015. Originally due to take place this month, the event has been postponed until further notice. But rather than admitting defeat, the decision involves ambitious plans for the future of the event. One of the key targets is to emerge stronger from the crisis.

“Many people don’t know that Georgia is a country. My main goal is to raise awareness about Georgia through fashion and art, and present our creativity and culture to the world,” Sofia Tchkonia told FashionNetwork.com in an interview. Her ambitions include launching a 27,000 sq m Art and Culture Center in the former Coca-Cola factory in Tbilisi.

The industrial space will become an events venue where local designers, photographers and artists can showcase their work. With an aim to boost Georgia’s creative industries, the building will also feature bookstores, cafes and children’s studios. And two times a year, the space will be transformed to host Tbilisi Fashion Week, starting next autumn if international travel permits.

“Georgia’s new generations need support to express their originality and creativity. They need motivation to continue doing what they are doing. Motivation has to be nurtured by their country and the people who live and work there,” said Tchkonia. She added: “Creative people need to feel that their work serves a purpose and know that what they do is important to them, the country and society.”

MBFW Tbilisi

“Events of this kind are an opportunity for artists of all disciplines to be discovered,” the event's organiser says. For Georgian designers, it offers an opportunity to earn a place on the global map. Tbilisi Fashion Week embraces the country’s cultural influence and the gastronomic and touristic virtues of the area to entice more visitors. This means that the strategy is firmly anchored to the physical format. And as such, it stands out from other smaller fashion weeks which are opting to host purely digital formats due to the coronavirus. “This space brings together art and culture, which is of key importance to advance the country and spark more interest from both locals and foreigners,” Tchkonia concluded.

Georgia, the birthplace of Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia, is still a country in the process of building its fashion credentials. Lacking resources, financing and fashion schools, the sector is making a name for itself through Tbilisi Fashion Week. In less than five years, the showcase has managed to multiply its visitor numbers and attract buyers from luxury retailers including Net-A-Porter and MyTheresa.com. Its latest edition presented both emerging Georgian designers and international names, such as Anouki or Datuna Sulikashvili. And thanks to a partnership with MBFW Madrid, the event even featured an exceptional catwalk show from Spanish designer Dominnico.

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