Sofia Tchkonia puts a chic spin on patriotism.
The rise of a certain Demna Gvasalia, now creative director of Balenciaga, and of London-based designer David Koma, artistic director of Thierry Mugler since 2013, put Georgia on the map of the international fashion scene. Suddenly fashion insiders from all over the globe scrutinised the former Soviet republic by the Black Sea for the next shooting star, and glossy magazines like Vogue, Elle and New York Times T Magazine dispatched editors to the Georgian capital Tbilisi to report about this newly discovered creative hub.
Enter Sofia Tchkonia. A born and bred Georgian with a global mindset and the refined sophistication of a true cosmopolitan, she can be described as the driving force behind the ongoing fame of the small nation at the intersection of Europe and Asia. We met the fascinating founder and creative director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Georgia for a joy ride in a Mercedes-Benz S 500 4MATIC through Tbilisi’s picturesque old city. Driving past quaint historic structures, we talk to Tchkonia about her ambitious work behind the scenes to further her home country’s reputation as an international hub for design and creativity.
S 500 4MATIC: Fuel consumption combined: 9.3–8.7 l/100 km; combined CO₂ emissions: 216–202 g/km.*
What is the status quo in Georgia’s design and culture scene?
Many good things are happening at the moment. We have a growing number of talented designers, not only in fashion but also in interior and furniture design, jewellery, and much more. Besides Fashion Week, we have countless other cultural events, exhibitions and festivals taking place in Georgia.
What are the things that set Georgian creatives apart from their international peers?
I don’t know if this is good or bad, but Georgian creatives are not spoiled by marketing yet and they think more about creativity itself rather than focusing on the commercial side of things.
You are the founder and creative director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Georgia. What does your work for this event entail?
As soon as one season’s event ends we start working on the upcoming fashion week. I invite guests, work with the designers, and liaise with potential sponsors and the government. There is always plenty to do.
What were the biggest challenges in creating and establishing Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Georgia?
Discovering the most talented designers and keeping up with the changes we see each season are probably the most challenging tasks.
Georgian creatives are not spoiled by marketing yet.
Growing up, did you always want to work in fashion? What made you choose this path?
I’ve been studying films and wanted to become a film director. I’m not entirely sure how it happened that I now work in fashion, but the two things I love most of all are fashion and the cinema. I’ve been organising international fashion design contests for seven years now. There we provide scholarships for outstanding participants and finance collections, giving the designers exposure and helping them find work placements. I found that we need a professional fashion week in the country because I felt we are ready for it. We have many talented designers in Georgia who are ready for the international market. This is also a perfect opportunity to promote the country itself through art and fashion.
Growing up in Georgia, was patronage of the arts a big topic in your family?
My family has always been actively involved in Georgia’s cultural scene, sponsoring and also organising events from theatre to art, fashion and much more. They supported many different projects that were vital to the country’s cultural scene and educational sector. My father originally brought major American brands here in 1993, right after the Soviet Union collapsed. My mother had a charity foundation and was organising design contests for young fashion designers. My parents always gave me a lot of motivation to move forward and supported me throughout. I’ve been working since the age of 18 and did many different things. I think most of all it is my passion for what I do that helped me to get where I am now, as well as the desire to constantly improve.
Would you consider yourself and your work as the work of a patriot and cultural ambassador?
Maybe. I think culture, art and fashion are the perfect ambassadors for the country. My ambition is to enhance the prestige of my country.
My ambition is to enhance the prestige of my country.
The contest you described is the BE NEXT International Fashion Design Contest. What is the aim of this event?
It is an annual platform for creative people from all around the globe, bringing together young designers and providing them with the opportunity to showcase their talent and creations to a jury of international experts and professionals. It has been going on for ten years now. Prizes range from financial opportunities, work placements, participation in international study programmes and fashion weeks to participation in major trade shows and showrooms, PR and Sales opportunities and much more.
You also organise a biannual art and design salon in Paris, ARTGeorgia. What is the focus here?
ARTGeorgia is the place where fashion meets art. Creatives from all around the world from the fields of art, fashion or photography can present their work and their ideas in a relaxed atmosphere to an audience of fashion representatives, specialty fashion buyers, selected VIPs, socialites, journalists, stylists, magazine representatives, and fashion and art professionals.
Our mission is to support, to give visibility to artists and our aim is to build the bridge between creatives and professionals from around the world.
What are the best spots to experience contemporary Georgian culture and design?
I would recommend visiting the old city of Tbilisi with its narrow streets to experience the real Georgia. Amongst the museums I would suggest to go see the National Gallery or State Museum, the Theatre and Cinema Museum, and the Lado Gudiashvili Gallery. Turn to Gabriadze Café or Keto & Kote for authentic sustenance. Rooms Hotel is a Georgian brand and a popular meeting place for many locals and people who visit Tbilisi.
What makes Georgia unique in your eyes?
As a Georgian, this is a hard thing for me to say. For me my country as a whole is unique. The culture, the fashion and art, the capital Tbilisi, the environment – these are all things I love about Georgia.
What is next on your busy agenda?
My next projects will be the upcoming Fashion Week and various projects in Paris, Milan and London. There are many things happening right now, which is very exciting for me.