Georgia on her mind

DELIVERY guy or trendsetter? These days, it’s hard to tell. Vetements, a Zurich-based fashion house, showed off a T-shirt inspired by DHL, a courier firm, in 2015. For a mere $200 a shirt, the young and ironically chic can look almost but not exactly like the chap who brings boxes to their parents’ doors. The T-shirts sold out in an instant.

This is called “anti-fashion”: tweaking mundane items and sending them down the catwalk with eye-watering price tags. Vetements makes a packet out of it. The label’s founder, a native of Georgia named Demna Gvasalia, is also the creative director of Spain’s Balenciaga, a fashion house which sells something like an IKEA blue carrier bag for $2,145. Youthful hypebeasts can’t get enough of them.

Mr Gvasalia fled the Georgian civil war as a child and studied design in Antwerp. Now his homeland is latching onto his success. Georgia once made drab clothes for the victims of communism; its garment industry collapsed with the Soviet Union. Now it serves fashion victims everywhere. Western stylists, buyers and journalists flock to the Caucasus to spot the next big thing. Georgian designers sell their wares in London, Paris and New York. Clients include Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Tbilisi hosts not one but two fashion weeks.

Fashion is hardly a mainstay of the Georgian economy. Duller exports such as nuts and copper ore are far bigger. But the beauty buzz puts Georgia on the map, where tourists and investors can find it. Last year 7.5m people visited—twice Georgia’s population, and up almost sixfold since 2008.

Financial aid from the European Union has helped local businesses update their equipment and meet the quality standards needed to sell kit in Europe. In 2017 exports to the EU totalled $646m, 13% higher than the previous year. Some 70% of Georgians want to integrate more with the EU, and the country has had an association agreement to do just that since 2016. Flashy frocks will not make Georgia rich, let alone defend it against Russian aggression. But being on the minds of the global jet-set surely can’t hurt. The Black Sea is the new black.