As some of the most successful fashion voices coming out of my hometown in Georgia, Lado Bokuchava and Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili’s Paris Fashion Week showrooms were must-sees during my trip. Here, they share how they mined their memories when dreaming up their spring-summer 2024 collections.
It’s often said that fashion weeks today are part production and part style – not always in equal proportion. And nowhere is this theater more vibrant than Paris. For that reason and many others (heartbreakingly flaky pastries included), the city has been on my bucket list for years. And so it happened one day – an invitation came in, followed by another. Soon enough, a ticket was purchased and before I knew it, I was rolling, folding, and cramming outfits in my just-stowed-away-for-the-winter suitcase.
Fashion week brings out the industry’s ringmasters, and runway shows take center stage. But in between the gargantuan productions and all the hullabaloo about celebrity street style, there are lesser-talked-about commitments. I’m talking about intimate showroom appointments, arguably my favorite part of fashion. Why? They offer a less hectic, more low-key opportunity to get to know a collection and potentially meet the designers behind the garments. Designers like Lado Bokuchava and Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili.
For several seasons, Lado and Aleksandre served as creative directors of Materiel Tbilisi, one of the most successful labels to come out of my hometown in Georgia. Helming their own namesake labels, the two creatives happen to be on my personal list of fashion superheroes. Which is why I couldn’t wait to peruse their spring-summer 2024 collections in Paris. Tucked away on a narrow street off the Rue de Rivoli, their joint showroom was everything I’d hoped for – if not more.
Lado Bokuchava: A Gothic Romance
Instantly upon arrival, denim draws my attention – red and distressed with a painterly tie-dye effect. It’s not that Lado hasn’t played with denim before. In fact, I personally own a denim blazer-and-pants set from the designer which boasts a slightly worn-in look. But tie-dye? I had to ask. “It’s giving me [a] kind of feeling that it’s not new,” Lado tells me. “It’s owned by someone, and this garment [has] a history. This garment is alive.”
The red denim jacket (which has a matching skirt) is built upon Lado’s signature silhouette from the previous season: a paneled construction with a neckline that lands right on the shoulder, not below, not above. Pressed rosettes adorn the garment, playing into fashion’s collective fascination with floral appliqués. “There are lots of roses in fashion right now,” says Lado, who partially bleached his rosettes. “Inside, everything is dark, and the top is bleached, [which] gives you more volume.”
This goes to show Lado’s knack for transforming hackneyed elements into fresh designs. Most of his stories begin with something along the lines of, “Well, I didn’t want to do a traditional (insert detail here), so instead I did this.” He didn’t want to do traditional spikes, so he bent them. Sartorial closet staples are given visual intrigue with pin-buckle fastenings up and down the front – an iconic silhouette that the designer has perfected over many seasons.
The ubiquitous ballet flat is given the gothic treatment with metal O rings, and so are mini skirts, which drip with O-ring hardware. And after being absent for close to two seasons, lace makes a comeback with a ruffled butter-yellow slip and matching gloves. “For me, lace is very gothic,” he says. “Even in pastel yellow.” Sequins, too, are revived, this time in a fiery tangerine hue. And unsurprisingly, I see lots of leather.
It’s this clash of romantic and gothic influences – of angular, futuristic tailoring with an undertone of old-world influence – that makes Lado’s work so exciting.
Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili: Excavating Memories
“A lot of this collection was built around emotions – around my childhood and my parents,” Aleksandre tells me in Georgian. Whenever his mother would take him to school, Aleksandre always pictured her wearing something distinct – something no one else was wearing. So, in his mind, he’d restyle her look and fill in what he thought was missing. All in the pursuit of perfection. Now, purified lines and structural silhouettes are his way of getting there.
“This one has a very concrete story,” Aleksandre says, as we pause in front of a sand-colored blazer-and-skirt set. Looking back at old photographs of his mother, Aleksandre was endlessly intrigued by her clothes, which she sewed herself. But almost every photograph was taken from a distance; he couldn’t tell where the clothes began and ended. “In these photographs, where she’s pregnant with a massive belly, I can’t tell [exactly what she’s wearing],” he says. And so, he reimagined her maternity attire, cutting a dipping waistline that mimics the curve of a pregnant stomach.
The matching blazer is equally stunning with its scooped lapel and bustier-inspired paneling. I ask Aleksandre why blazers are such an integral part of every collection. It’s a statement about female empowerment, he says. A way of using the bold shoulder to project inner strength and assert their presence in a world dominated by masculinity.
Another recurring theme? Press-stud buttons that snake down side seams and sleeves. That, too, was inspired by his mother, who made pleated skirts out of a lightweight gauze-like fabric. “After every wash, she’d pin the pleats in place and iron them to hold their shape,” Aleksandre says. “These lines, these vents that open and close, came to me from that [memory].”
Standing out in a lineup of mostly blacks are yellows and a metallic orange, the color of copper wire. There are also pale pinks and a fluid, white slip – a wedding dress Aleksandre reimagined for his mom. It’s a pared-back elegant gown, with a long, full-length silhouette. And just like his mother’s wardrobe, it’s unfussy yet striking in its simplicity. “I couldn’t imagine her wearing anything too dramatic,” he says.
Ironically, hanging right next to it is an angle-grazing sequined mesh dress, arguably one of the most attention-commanding pieces in the room – an exclamation point at the end of a thoughtful, memory-filled collection I won’t soon forget.