Issue 6, 2014. December-January



Helena Bedwell spoke with Georgian designer George Shaghashvili about his love of color and his second career success.

Helena Bedwell

During one very cold winter evening I made a phone call to my friend Kethy Kvinikadze asking her to attend the "Tbilisi Fashion Week" show with me. Kethy has a very good fashion sense but was never a fan of high fashion shows featuring catwalks and designer brands.

After some cajoling, she finally relented and reluctantly agreed to join me for this show. It was going to be a decisive evening for both of us. We took our designated seats in the carnivorous white tent, giggling and joking about our opinions on fashion and what we expected to view that night, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were just about to see.

The fashion designer who was putting the show together was George Shaghasvili. George is one of the first Georgian designers who meant business without any hidden agendas. He doesn't seek mass production; he doesn't seek just the acknowledgment of the elite avant-garde society; nor does he try to confuse the public with garments that are not going to be worn just once after the purchase. My friend Kethy was in love with his creations immediately -- and not just her -- judging by the excited reaction from the packed audience.

I spoke with George later. "Why black?" I asked the artistof these creations.The 42-old designer tells me: "Black doesn't count as a color, and it is at the same time, according to various theories around the world; there is this huge argument about it — kind of like grey, and I love it!"

George is not your conventional, reserved designer: he believes that the color black deserves the right of existence along with all others. In various cultures this color has a different acceptance, like Yin and Yang: it represents birth and the beginning of life in one culture, while other cultures embrace this color as a symbol of death.

Only a year ago, lovers of George's creations were visiting his small apartment. Now these wonderful creations are hanging proudly in his still small but crowded shop in Tbilisi, where black reflects and enhances every other color in the room.

"Look, pay attention, just how many black shades are out there. They feel differently when you touch; they all look different," George said while he rushed to open the door for ladies who came in for personalized tailoring. They seemed happy with what they saw.

"I made a green dress for this girl, imagine that!" he smiled.

George is a doctor by education, but found his fame very suddenly during the dark, poor and post-civil war times in Georgia; he was invited to attend a fashion show, and that was when George decided to have a go at designing his own style of fashion. He opted to use paper-mâché for this new style of dress, made mostly by medical plaster material - which Andrew Logan, an English sculptor, performance artist, jewelry-maker, portraitist and painter named the best innovative idea of the year.

"I had to sit down and decide for myself, what did I want to do with my life? Soon marriage came and my pregnant wife showed me the picture of our first baby's ultrasound, giving me more inspiration than ever, turning me completely to fashion."

His marriage took him abroad, first ito Denmark, then Kenya, where he did not sit idle: he used a website to market his creations to find a larger clientele and to find buyers. He was also inspired by the colors of Africa. Local tribal accessories found a warm home in George's collection, although black and white remain a common theme in George's designs.

I still wear a thick knitted sweater I saw in his last collection and one of his grey dresses, while his tribal, ceremonial, multi-colored bustier is eye-catching when one first sees it. This is the secret of George Shaghasvili.

Before I say farewell to him in his packed shop, my last question is how he handles his difficult Georgian surname abroad. "I am not going to change my hard-to-pronounce name either," he laughed." I am not staying abroad forever and at least I can make them remember my Georgia and myself by that, at least."

Helena Bedwell is the Bloomberg correspondent for Georgia.