It’s not often people say that they are casually off to Georgia. The first question I’d always have to answer after such a rare statement was: oh in America? That’s an odd first state to visit, most people opt for New York or California. It is at this point I’d say, no, the country. Embarrassingly, a lot of people didn’t know where it was, not to mention the culture, terrain, religion or anything at all about this gem of the Caucasus.
I am also not one to gloat about my geo-cultural wisdom. What I’ve known about the countries surrounding the Caucasus mountains my whole life has been mainly the skewed information I’d sponge in from Soviet era cinema, hello Кавказская пленница. I’ve known not much more apart from the fact that my mum has visited neighbouring Azerbaijan once. That’s where my prior knowledge ended.
Upon landing at 3am in Kutaisi we were greeted by a driver who delivered us straight to the hotel that I found via booking.com. The driver also knocked on the door the morning after, waking us up, stating – it was sight-seeing time. Btw, we didn’t ask for a guide, but seeing as we had nothing better planned, this was welcome. The hotel suite itself was so spacious. If it were London, it most likely would have been diced into 3-4 flats and sold off for stupidly high prices. But there was a sudden reminder that we’re definitely not in London, there was no hot water. Or heating. Mind, we came to visit in the middle of November – the temperatures reached 7 degrees on a good day.
A cold face wash after, we got into our driver’s car (aka complete stranger’s – as we are living dangerously) and sight-seeing we went. There are so many gorgeous monasteries in Georgia, they are so beautiful, it actually hurts. Georgians are very spiritual and religious (Georgian Christian Orthodox), so these stunning structures are very dear to them.
After our compulsory tour, we left the driver and went out to Palaty, a really cool hipster place serving modern and traditional Georgian food. Fair warning: If you are like me and salt is rarely added in your cooking, get ready to get a salt shock as every meal I tasted in Kutaisi was so salty it actually caused mental wounds, not rubbed them in. After an impromptu wine tasting session, we were ready to jump into a minivan to Tbilisi, the capital, where I was buzzing to meet a traditional couture dress designer and ask her millions of questions after seeing traditional Georgian clothing making its mark within street fashion.
I may have said minivan, Georgians call it marshrutka. It is a journey through a picturesque terrain and also back in time. I witnessed loads of stuff that was normal to my parents and grandparents but was totally alien to me. This included a pitstop serving only spirits and full on meat-heavy dishes instead of water and light refreshments, as well as a toilet facility with a lady rationing toilet tissue, and the actual loo cabins not really having walls or doors – more like knee-high borders. Cute.
As we reached the capital, the vibe of the city overwhelmed. A stunning muse to many a poet, singer and artist. While the hipster part of the city was omnipresent, Tbilisi was a sight to behold: parts of it extremely new, parts boasting soviet era futurism, and parts extremely dilapidated but still retaining a charm of grandeur that once was. Gorgeous in every respect.
While many travellers make a point to taste local cuisine, I make a point to immerse myself in local dress and fashion. Traditional Georgian clothing is not only stunning to look at, its meticulous tailoring makes the wearer feel at his or her best. Take the chokha, for instance. This is a wool coat with a structured neckline that was designed with special pockets for ammunition for Georgian warriors. You can see me wearing it with the embroidered head dress. While the ammunition is no longer carried in these elaborate pockets, they still serve as historical detail, a mark of heritage that Georgians enjoy displaying – and with good reason.
The brand that I collaborated with on this post is called Samoseli Pirveli, translated as The First Garment, which is a biblical reference to the Lost Son.
Ana, the designer of the brand (seen in the last two images), was kind enough to speak to me and tell me more about how the business kicked off. As with the majority of things that Georgians do, the brand started as a passion. It was the lust for knowledge and technique of recreating clothing that was once part of the country’s identity and a need to remind the nation just that. While in many countries folk dress has slowly morphed into a costume that some wear during folk dance and song, there are still true custodians of the craft and believers that traditional dress has a well-deserved place in modern fashion. As the brand grew, more and more people realised that they wanted their heritage to play a bigger part in their lives. This resulted in further expansion for the label with traditional bridal dresses getting more momentum than ever. Samoseli Pirveli now does both folkloric attire as well as modern garments and footwear stylised with a nod to folklore. It’s a heart warming business: Beautiful craftsmanship revived with care, attention to historic detail and made to order, so it is true haute couture.
While the embroidered head dress and a knee-length chokha are on my to-buy list for next time I am in Georgia (the outfit looks so good with a white shirt, classic Chanel bag and boyfriend jeans in my head), I also must share my second happy place in Tbilisi, and it’s the Dry Bridge Flea Market. You will find no shortage of interesting, quirky pieces as well as vintage jewellery that I may have over-indulged in. Other honourable mentions include Fabrika, aka mini Shoreditch, Cafe Leila, a lovely small vegetarian cafe with interior goals, and Ezo, a restaurant where you need to try the pork in apple sauce, honestly, it will be that meal the memory of which you will take home with you.
Thank you to all the lovely Georgians who met us with open arms and full wine glasses. This is a country full of beautiful people that will restore your faith in humanity in case the rat race caused you to lose it.