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If there is something that 2020 has taught us, it is that fashion – often too ephemeral and hectic – must rethink its way of doing things. Tamuna Ingorokva, creative director and founder of her eponymous brand, Ingorokva, is very clear about it. “We should buy less and think more.” 20 years in this industry endorse the Georgian designer’s trajectory, who has just presented her Spring/Summer 2021 collection making use of the new platform led by Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, Factory – Art & Culture Center, which promises to become the meeting point for restless creative minds.

Inspired by real women (her potential clients) and betting everything on the talent of her native country, her new collection is an ode to local manufacturing and heritage. "There was only one rule to follow: it had to be a Georgian product." Georgia, and more specifically Tbilisi, the epicentre of national fashion, has adapted successfully to the circumstances since its inception in 2015. Their last action? Factory – Art & Culture Center, an initiative as exciting as necessary that calls into questions the current way of doing.

Sofia Tchkonia, the founder of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, saw in the former Coca-Cola factory the perfect place to foster synergies among artists from different artistic disciplines. Spread over 27,800 m2, the building (left unattended until now) promises to become the new cultural centre of the country, promoting interaction with designers, photographers or multidisciplinary artists. The fledgeling project has already been launched, hosting the twenty presentations shown in November during the major event with Georgian fashion.

An unprecedented edition digitally celebrated as a result of the health crisis, in which Ingorokva took part in collaboration with photographer Ira Kudryashova. “I hope that our old Coca-Cola Factory will one day take its place among the best alternative spaces related to art in the world,” comments the designer, who openly admits being excited about the new project in collaboration with the Georgian Fashion Foundation.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi has proven – from its founder to each and every one of the participating designers – a real commitment to its product and its talent. In just 5 years, the event has managed to carve a well-deserved niche on the international scene by supporting its creators and attracting press attention from all five continents. A successful result of perseverance and effort showed by all the agents involved, who decided to cooperate instead of competing, putting their differences aside. “5 years ago, there were fewer organisations that were working on the development of Georgian fashion,” Tamuna explains, after having experienced first-hand the exponential growth of the project undertaken by Sofia Tchkonia. “Let's say she arranged an ideal showcase for our creations, suddenly Georgian fashion became visible.”

With more than two decades of experience in fashion design, you are one of Tbilisi's most veteran creators. What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is my favourite thing to do. Luckily, I have been doing this thing since I turned 20. Also, fashion is my job, and it is the kind of job that keeps me up at night. A very disturbing kind, I would say. It is my way to communicate, with myself and with the world around me. It suits me more than words, scents or gestures, and I always make sure people I care about receive these messages. Fashion is something I do for money, but I have never been doing it for money. I mean, this is not why I’m in it. I know it sounds controversial, but it makes perfect sense to me.
The fashion industry has changed a lot in the last twenty years. While many young designers continue to look to past centuries for inspiration, social media and globalisation have meant a before and after in the sector. What has changed since you started your project in the early 2000s?
Well, the biggest change is that there was no fashion industry whatsoever back then, and there is some now. Some. It’s still difficult to find a decent seamstress though, not to mention good quality fabrics, vegan leather, and tons of other things you need to make clothes. I still bring stuff from every country I go to. Seriously, I do, and I actually love doing it. All these countless moves you make to produce one simple dress. The creative process is still very private here, that’s what I’m trying to say. I guess the best thing about Georgia is the worst thing about it. It’s incredibly raw. It is shaping up – like right now.
Among the difficulties you found when returning to your native country, Georgia, following your true passion, you highlight the lack of a strong and internationally recognised fashion industry. However, in just 5 years, the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi has managed to make a name for itself. What do you attribute it to? How has this sudden interest in Georgian designers been reflected?
There is always a person behind an event with the name, someone who pushes the platform. In case of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, this person is Sofia Tchkonia. 5 years ago, there were fewer organizations that were working on development of Georgian fashion, and around a dozen designers representing more or less sustainable brands. We would show our collections twice per year in the frame of national fashion weeks, but none of these events would ever get real publicity. We needed an international audience, and Sofia managed to give it to us. Let’s say she fixed an ideal showcase for our creations, all of a sudden Georgian fashion became visible. It felt like being naked in public at the beginning. This visibility had its pros and cons, of course. Not all of us were ready for a demanding eye of glossy giants like Vogue.

The commitment to national talent and the impact of social media have contributed to the success of the event, which now presents a new platform for Georgian designers. The revolutionary portal responds to the needs (accentuated by the pandemic) of a generation that demands updated content whenever and wherever it wants. Do you think this new tool will help you get your message across?
It sure will, and I am glad that Georgia went online just like the rest of the world did. But nothing, literally nothing, can replace the excitement of an old-school fashion show for me. Can’t wait to feel it again.
In addition, this platform encourages synergies between creators from different fields through collaborations and interdisciplinary work. Your new project, shot by photographer Ira Kudryashova at the Factory – Art, Culture & Educational Center, is a good example of this. What would you highlight from this experience?
This story started as an editorial for my Spring/Summer 2021 collection. We met up to discuss the general concept of the shooting and plan it in case we agreed on something. After nearly a gallon of coffee, we both knew it wasn’t going to be just another fashion campaign. The idea was brilliantly simple: let’s work with real women, the ones that are actually wearing Ingorokva clothes, and the ones that are making them. Age didn’t matter and neither did the appearance.
To top it all, we decided to shoot only on analogue and instant cameras. We got very fortunate at every stage of this project. Sofia generously offered us an incredible space, the forementioned former Coca-Cola factory, which was about to turn into an art centre, and our friends wanted to model for us. Everything was so perfect somehow, even the weather, and so was the result of our work. Well, to us.
The visual piece, presented just a few weeks ago at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, is reduced to its minimum expression. Natural light illuminates the different elements that appear on the scene: a sewing machine, a table, a ladder, a chair and a series of black and white photographs. What do these symbols represent?
I didn’t feel like dealing with too many choices, so we decided to stick to simplicity. There was only one rule to follow: it had to be a Georgian product. I mean, fully and completely Georgian. The song, the singer, the artist, the moves, etc., everything. And both of us wanted to give it a theatre feel. Plus, there was an intriguing idea of shooting the whole thing on the iPhone. To me, in a way, it reflects the absurdity of living in pandemic. Also, the video kind of had to have something in common with the campaign we just finished working on. That explains the scanned and printed Polaroids on the wall.
In your Spring/Summer 2021 collection, you travel across your long (and intense) career to extract the essence. A DNA defined by freedom, a result of your time in Germany and France and your return to Tbilisi in 2002. What message do you want to send to the world through this collection?
The message is you don’t need many Ingorokva jackets. Get one, take good care of it, and it will serve you well for at least 10 years. I refuse to produce garments that are not meant to last. I also refuse to pay less to my incredible seamstresses, so you will probably never see a cheap Ingorokva jacket.

From an intense red double-breasted blazer to a lemon split skirt and several faux leather coats. Apart from your own life experiences… Have you turned to other creative disciplines for inspiration in this collection?
It sounds banal, but cinema is an unfailing source of inspiration to me. Deep down, I’m a nerdy cinephile, and I usually build my collections and shows on impressions of the movies I watch. But as they say, it takes one to know one. These links are only obvious to other cinema lovers.
The tailoring impregnated with femininity, the passion for minimalism and the predilection for primary colors are some of your most distinctive signs. An empowering proposal in which you still believe in. How would you like women to feel when they wear one of your designs?
Free. I’d like them – not them, us – to feel free. And sexy. And almighty, like Helmut Newton's early work.
Sofia Tchknonia, the forementioned founder and driver of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, recognised that there were no good fashion design schools in Georgia. Due to this fact, she has decided to turn the Coca-Cola factory into a cultural centre, hosting seminars, exhibitions and workshops. Do you think other countries will follow the example, recovering abandoned spaces to dedicate them to art?
I like this tendency. The famous Fondazione Prada is a former gin distillery, and the Tate Modern used to be a power station. I hope our former Coca-Cola Factory will one day take its place among the best alternative art-related spaces of the world.
Will the health crisis be a turning point in fashion? Will this industry be a better place?
Yes, hopefully. We should all buy less and think more. Everytime you’re buying something, you’re supporting someone who profits from your purchase, which means you are supporting whatever this person or brand stands for. Choose wisely. My ideal world has no fast fashion brands in it.

Words
David Alarcón

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