Step off, Gucci fur-lined loafers! Italian shoe designers—and frankly, shoe designers the world over—may want to glance nervously over their shoulders: Some of the coolest, most skillfully crafted footwear we’ve seen recently is coming straight out of Georgia. Take it from what was on the runways of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi Spring 2016. The weekend was a testament to the flourishing fashion scene in and around the post-Soviet republic, and almost every designer who showed also created their own shoes.
At Eloshi, a flatform sneaker was given a fun exo-tongue, while designer Anuka Keburia, who is known for her handmade shoes, gave goth the luxe treatment with crinkled leather, shaping it into knee-skimming boots with chunky soles or floppy-cuffed moto boots. At Tamuna Ingorokva, footwear was romantic and classic: pointy-toed flats with the top of the foot cut out. The one thing they all had in common? Each shoe was made in Georgia.
In the Caucasus region, artisanship in this particular department has deep, time-honored roots. “It is worth mentioning that Georgian shoemaking has quite an old history!” says Eloshi designer Lela Eloshvili. She isn’t exaggerating: Recently, less than five hours away from Tbilisi and just over the border of Georgia, theworld’s oldest leather shoe was found in an Areni cave in Armenia.
The age-old tradition of shoemaking has stuck with fashion-forward Georgians: Plenty of “Made in Georgia” labels are also crossing borders inside footwear. Just this past year, designer Tamar Areshidze, who first gained popularity with her “Lightning Wedge,” which had LED crystal–style lights in the heels, had some of her other architectural works of vertiginous art—like her clear-heeled “Walking on Water Shoes” and wooden-soled “Levitating Shoes”—displayed at the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.”
As for what’s selling abroad, Anouki, the local label beloved by Tbilisi It girls, now has tweed raffia oxfords, pompom-embellished biker boots, and tassel-tacked loafers in stores like Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong. The latest craze, however, seems to be the handmade-in-Tbilisi Le Mocassin Zippe by the Georgian-born, Paris-based designer Ketevane Maissaia, who also works with leather goods atLoewe. Whether in striped or solid powder pinks or baby blues, the funky footwear comes adorned with a zipper around the top of the toes and is sold everywhere from Opening Ceremony in New York to Song in Vienna. “Georgia is traditionally known for its knowledge of shoemaking, which has existed here since ancient times,” says Maissaia, echoing the sentiments of her fellow designers back home. “It is a small country with a very strong personality.” Now that small country is stepping up—and heading straight into our closets.