A tangled web connects Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. But can a comprehensive fashion market emerge out of this tense region moulded by ancient cultures and anxious modernisers? Market GPS is sponsored by Marvin Traub Associates.
VIA BOF: Model wearing Tilmann Grawe in front of Crystal Hall, Baku | Photo: Jacques Beneich
“Georgia has gone through some really difficult times since independence,” says Sofia Tchkonia, the maverick behind a foundation supporting the international fashion festival ‘Be Next’, which is held annually in Georgia’s second city of Batumi and the ARTGeorgia event which she brings to Paris during couture fashion week.
Georgia is still smarting from the 2008 war it lost when Russia effectively took control of its two separatists regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “Of course, this continues to affect the market and many investors are afraid to enter. We have some boutiques in our capital Tbilisi now. There’s Burberry, Zegna, Cartier and a few other luxury brands and in the malls we have Zara, H&M and the like. But we still need to prove that we can solve our stability and security issues before we can expect the market to develop much more,” she says.
Tchkonia suggests that instability is not only why international fashion brands aren’t investing themselves but also why there aren’t many local Georgian players either. Apart from ICR Trade, which has the franchise for several footwear labels, most of the what is available in Georgian stores can be traced to foreign companies in the nearby region, mostly from Turkey, Armenia and the Gulf.
“It’s a shame that we don’t have more available really because, frankly, Georgians have quite good taste and love to dress well. Even during Soviet times Georgian women were known around the rest of the Soviet Union for this. It was very difficult to find even stockings back then but somehow Georgian women managed to dress like movie stars,” she says.
Georgian consumers and designers alike are often considered to be slightly more adventurous than their neighbours in the Caucasus. Fashion graduates from the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts have begun to catch the attention of the outside world because of their experimental spirit, most notably after being selected by the British Fashion Council’s International Fashion Showcase in London the past two years.
Tastes certainly vary around the Caucasus region, albeit in ways that only locals can often distinguish. In Azerbaijan, for example, where there is by far the most wealth and most variety of brands as well as merchandise, consumers appear to be slightly more in tune with directions in the Russian market.
Alex Mirzoyan, the responsible editor of Luxury Georgia magazine is based in neighbouring Armenia, where the firm’s publishing house is headquartered, and has a unique bicultural perspective on the region.
Geopolitics play an incredibly big role in the future of Caucasus region today, colouring many aspects of these three markets which have been carved up out of a narrow mountainous corridor. Over the millennia, a succession of empires have left their mark – the Persians, the Ottomans and the Russians to name but a few – yet each country here remains astonishingly rich and distinctive. In a region that could be squeezed into half of Italy’s boot, the Caucasus countries are home to some of the earliest Christian and Muslim communities in the world and speak languages so diverse that they use four totally different writing scripts.
Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia not only have many complex rivalries, alliances and simmering conflicts with one another but also with the precarious giants on their doorstep — notably Iran, Turkey and Russia. How lucrative the fashion market here becomes in subsequent years depends on how well their economies are able to take advantage of their unique position at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia – rather than falling victim to its often explosive disposition.
read full BOF by By Robb Young 12 March, 2014