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Will virtual Tbilisis Fashion Week help put it on the international map?




Fashion weeks, as we know them, have undergone a transformation this year amid the pandemic and ongoing restrictions. The Big 4 New York, Paris, London, Milan have so far shown that it is possible for the biggest events to react to the pandemic without missing a beat by adopting the new hybrid or phydigital (physical and digital) format.

Many shows had physical events with limited attendance and the rest chose to stream online. For example, Rebecca Minkoff used Instagram to host a two-hour live shopping event during New York Fashion Week. In Paris, Miu Miu chose to invite international celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Milla Jovovich to join the show by virtual seats in the first row, via a Zoom call. For London Fashion Week, the British Fashion Council has set up a series of virtual events on a digital platform. This included panel discussions and conversations with designers like RAEBURN and Daniel W. Fletcher, as well as podcasts and playlists curated by brands and creatives like ART SCHOOL and Ahluwalia.

While COVID-19 left no one in the industry unscathed, smaller and less established fashion weeks have had to address a range of issues from canceled events and limited budgets to supporting local designers and artisans, who found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy.

While Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is hardly known for fashion internationally, the city caught the industry’s attention in 2015 when Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia became Creative Director of Balenciaga.

To further consolidate Tbilisi’s place in the industry, Sofia Tchkonia launched Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi from scratch in the same year. I spoke to Sofia last week as she prepared for the event. The initial May show had to be canceled due to COVID-19, although the number of cases in Georgia is not increasing as quickly as in other countries. This week from November 19 to 22, fashion week opens its doors in a new format.

Like many other fashion weeks, Sofia opted for a virtual format for the Tbilisi fashion show. In addition to the regular live broadcasts of the shows, many designers have shot short videos informing viewers about their brand, their stories and their inspirations. There is also behind the scenes videos giving insight into the creative process that is usually not shown at events.

Sofia Tchkonia says the digital switchover has allowed designers to explore new, creative ways of expressing themselves. The hope is that with this digital format and given that travel is still limited, the event will be more accessible to an international audience.

But it posed some challenges. Due to financial constraints and COVID-19 restrictions impacting manufacturing, many designers were unable to produce full collections and presented limited pieces. This has also been picked up by designers from other countries, Vivienne Westwood and Burberry having decided not to participate in the virtual edition of London Fashion Weeks.

For the big four New York, Londo, Paris, Milan, a fashion week is not only a fashion event, but a successful commercial and economic project. A recent study shows that Paris Fashion Week brings in 1.2 billion euros. With several events per year, events are an important economic factor for the city and the region.

For the small fashion weeks, the calculation is often different. Of course, the goal is to showcase new designers and discover new talent. But in addition to that, it is also a cultural event. For Sofia Tchkonia, fashion week has always been an opportunity to show the culture, nature and spirit of Georgia and the Georgian people. In previous years, events have taken place in many different locations to immerse guests and help them better understand the creators’ stories. This year it is not possible. As Sofia says, There isn’t much that videos can do.

It’s no secret that artisans and designers are one of the hardest hit parts of the industry. In July, I wrote about a 350-year-old Italian artisan company struggling with the impact of pandemics on the fashion industry. This was no exception in Georgia as well. The Georgian fashion industry is still in a development phase with a lack of fashion schools, funding or support organizations for young design talent, and designers have been hit hard. For many of them, now is the time to make it or break it. This comes out very strongly when talking to Sofia. The aim is to really showcase and showcase the work of the designers, help them to be discovered, uplift the industry in the country and put Tbilisi on the international fashion map.

The pandemic has changed the rules of the game for the industry and now is the right time to embrace positive change. And I’m not talking about fashion weeks that simply go digital. This could be a unique opportunity to rethink how this industry works and what its future will look like. More attention to culture, authenticity, uncovering hidden talent, supporting local communities and artisans, this could be the new post-COVID fashion industry. And innovative Fashion Weeks like the one in Tbilisi can feel like a breath of fresh air and a catalyst for this positive change.

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