What is its history?
The piece originally hails from Persia and came to Georgia around the 9th century. The chokha is also worn elsewhere in the Caucasus region, like Chechnya. Depending on the part of Georgia, the garment differs in appearance, whether that means the length or how the holders are used. Though it was rarely worn during the Soviet Union era, many Georgians brought it back as a source of national pride after they claimed independence in the early ’90s. It has become popular to sport the garment at religious ceremonies like weddings and funerals and at political events.
Why is it having a fashion moment?
Recently, the chokha made an international impact thanks to Georgia-born designer David Koma, who visited Tbilisi last season. For London’s Fall 2017 collections, Koma went back to his roots with a thigh-skimming homage, asymmetrically placing cartridges on his signature body-hugging dresses.
Before that, the traditional piece had been making cameos in the collections of local designers, such as Nicolas Grigorian, Datuna Sulikashvili, and Simon Machabeli. “Unfortunately, during the Soviet era, the skills for making a chokhawere a bit lost. But now it’s coming back,” writes Machabeli. “It is established as a Georgian folk costume and modern interpretations of it can be very interesting.”
Where can you see it right now?
On the first day of Tbilisi’s Fall 2017 season, two designers have already referenced the chokha. Anuka Keburia put cartridge holders on sandals and reworked its silhouette in coats; Liya also used the same shape, focusing on flared sleeves.
In 1989, Rei Kawakubo, a fan of the Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani, went to Soviet-era Georgia with British photographer Brian Griffin to photograph villagers in Comme des Garçons designs. There, Griffin shot locals in a mix of national dress and CDG, and one famously featured a chokha with a pair of slouchy orange pants. The 12 photographs resurfaced last year when Project ArtBeat held an exhibition in Tbilisi.
Where can you buy it?
The Tbilisi store Samoseli Pirveli is known for re-creating traditional Georgian dress and selling different versions of the piece. If you’re looking to make a more casual statement, you can purchase the chic tourist tee, which is typically a simple shirt boasting chest cartridges.