It’s just after Tamuna Ingorokva’s highly anticipated show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, and I’m sitting cozily on a bench with the designer and stylist Ketevan Gvaramadze. Ingorovka has just shown a refreshing series of stellar tailored looks—silk high-waisted trousers, sliced-and-diced car-wash skirts, and wispy, paneled slip dresses—and it was a hit with showgoers. The room we’re in is decked out with promotional goods; rows of attendees tote designer bags and teeter past in vertiginous heels. The whole idea of Fashion Week, no matter where you are, is always symbolic of luxury. But this room, radiating with heat and saturated with artificial light, is a blazing reminder that in this part of the world, electricity itself was once a luxury, often out of reach even for those in fashion. Living in a perpetually crisis-ridden Georgia has been a struggle for its citizens—and Gvaramadze and Ingorokva can attest to that. The two women grew up in the tumultuous Caucasus country, first under the rule of the Soviet Union, then during the Georgian Civil War between 1991 and 1993, and through the late ’90s when the country was struck with an energy shortage. During that period, people would go for hours to days without electricity—and when they did have power, it was sporadic.
Gvaramadze and Ingorokva met as children through their mothers, who are both doctors and best friends. They lost touch in the late 1990s: Gvaramadze left Georgia at 18 in 1999 after her grandfather, father, and boyfriend died. “I was extremely sad, and it was that time that we had no lights. It was a black, dead city, like a black hole,” says Gvaramadze. “I couldn’t do anything in my country.” Once she arrived in the United States, she applied for political asylum as a refugee and found work as a nanny and as a Georgian-to-Russian translator. “It was such a better life here than back home,” she says. “I ended up staying and never going back.”
Meanwhile, back home, Ingorokva studied fashion at Esmod in Munich and later at Esmod in Paris in 1999. In 2002, she showed her first collection, Spring 2003, in Tbilisi. During this period, Georgia was still experiencing an energy crisis. “We had vodka backstage so the girls wouldn’t freeze,” says Ingorokva. “It was in an old, old, rundown theater. We had oil heaters everywhere. In my atelier, we were working with oil heaters because the lighting was out there, too.” Despite failing circuits, the collection was a success: It was shown on FashionTV and, eventually, Ingorokva opened a store in Tbilisi.
Back stateside, Gvaramadze had begun waitressing at venues like the fashion industry–frequented Giorgione as well as the Gansevoort Hotel. It was at Giorgione where she became acquainted with David Bonnouvrier, founder of DNA Models, and his then-wife Siobhan Bonnouvrier, the fashion director of Allure. “One day the hotel was having a party for Allure and I was working it,” says Gvaramadze. “I saw Siobhan and she was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I completely joked, ‘Do you want to hire me?’” The next week at Giorgione, Gvaramadze received a call from Bonnouvrier asking her to come on set. “That was it,” she says. In 2006, Gvardazme started working as an assistant at Allure (“I would come in Converse and T-shirts”), where she would also meet the magazine’s creative director, Paul Cavaco, and eventually she was promoted to associate fashion editor, all the while still working as a waitress at the Boom Boom Room. “I didn’t even know who Anna Wintour was!” she admits. “My mom is a doctor and my dad was a landscape architect—putting clothes together wasn’t even a job and I had zero clue,” she says. “But they [Cavaco and Bonnouvrier] trained me. I don’t know why these two were so good to me and so patient with me. They taught me everything.” In 2009, Gvaramadze left her position at Allure and her gig at the Boom Boom Room to become a freelance stylist. Among the many magazines Gvaramadze now works with is Vogue, for which she styles on a regular basis.
Fast-forward a couple years more to 2011: After 12 years of not being allowed to travel back to Georgia due to the immigration process, Gvaramadze was finally able to return. There, she reconnected with Ingorovka. “For 12 years we weren’t communicating,” says Gvaramadze. “But when we started again, it was natural. Very organic.” They continued to keep in touch, mostly through a texting app. When Ingorovka was designing her latest collection, Gvaramadze would advise and make suggestions via WhatsApp. “I always had something to say!” says Gvaramadze.
Ingorokva showed that collection at Tranoï in New York, linking up again with Gvaramadze, and attracting the attention of a PR firm, whose owner liked the clothes so much he asked to keep them in the showroom. When the designer returned home to Georgia, she was invited to participate in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, but her pieces were thousands of miles away in New York. But that’s what friends are for: Gvaramadze, whose shoot had just been canceled, hopped on the next plane with Ingorokva’s collection and styled the show. On top of that, Ingorokva was able to book the world-famous Georgian classical musician Nikoloz Rachveli at the last minute to play a live concert with his orchestra in place of a standard runway soundtrack. “It all came together in the end!” she says.
It’s a few days after the show, and Ingorokva and I are sitting in a farm-to-table–style Georgian restaurant adorned with pretty lamps. By this time, Gvaramadze has flown back to the U.S. and is emailing me that she is going straight from the plane to One World Trade Center to style a shoot for Vogue. I relay the message to Ingorokva—we’ve just been discussing the likely prospect of her coming to New York to show her collection next season. Suddenly, the room goes dark. “It’s the ’90s again!” Ingorokva jokes. But the bulbs flicker back on, dousing the room with yellow rays, and we laugh. Turns out there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all.
The post From Tbilisi to New York and Back: Two Designer and Stylist Friends Reunited for a Hit Collection appeared first on Vogue.
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