It’s a gray day in Tbilisi, Georgia, where I am outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts with photographer Tamuna Karumidze and musician Natalie “Tusia” Beridze. Though the air is thick with fog and we are still waking up, there is a shared flicker of excitement to the proceedings: We’re going to Lilo Plaza, a bazaar located on the outskirts of the city. The outdoor shopping center is the ultimate destination for all-things-knockoff, as well as a still-standing symbol of the pursuit of logo-ed luxury goods that saturated the post–Soviet Union in the early ’90s, when the free market filtered in and the ex-USSR was flooded with imported counterfeit designer garb from countries like Turkey and China. It’s the same intoxicated vision of throwback consumerism that runs rampant through today’s red-hot collections from the likes of Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia of Vetements (and now Balenciaga), who are from Russia and Georgia, respectively, and who are prone to riffing on the ubiquitous logos or the ill-fitting awkwardness of bin-plucked pieces from the era. And just outside of Tbilisi, the bazaar’s little frigid shanties are still stocked with the same fake merchandise and inexpensively crafted paraphernalia of the early ’90s that, in a chic and shinier form, are now dotting runways. It’s the mecca of cheap and tongue in cheek—and we’re ready to make the pilgrimage. We hail a cab, and 20 minutes later we’re there.
Upon approach, it’s clear that Lilo Plaza’s massive marketplace is actually a mass of sheet-metal lean-tos, intersected by weaving dirt paths filled with furry-browed Azeri men in puffer jackets who chew on wet cigarettes, the piled-up sacks of recent shipments, and elderly women who tug along heavy carts of coffee and call out “khachapuri,” the name of the cheesy baked bread that’s a local delicacy. We enter the first section of stalls, where Enya is playing from a booth filled with only radios, to find a mix of household supplies and women’s accessories: Belts and lamps hang near bedsheets, shower nozzles, briefcases, a box of red slippers that say “sport,” and pocket knives. The three of us are giddy in this near-claustrophobic mass barrage of stuff: There’s a wave of BOGO impulse, and I suddenly want to snap up a sink spout and light switch, just because they’re there and they’re so cheap. But off we go: We peer into a hutch selling only wallets slathered in rhinestones or in shiny, printed snakeskin that is already shedding; around the corner is a booth that contains only corded house phones and digital clocks, where the only indicator that we are in 2015 is a LED sign that reads “Internet.” Further down, we reach an area filled with bloated stuffed animals dyed in saccharine shades of baby pink and lilac. Tusia looks at the toys and mentions she may want to buy a pair of tights for her 2-year-old daughter. We’re off to the clothing section.
The apparel area is the cheerful pinnacle of bad taste: A strung-out logomania haven where children-size dolls are dressed in sequined mini “Chanel” tracksuits and hung by their hair from the ceiling and headless mannequins adorn the entrance nearby in sweatshirts by “Tommy Hilfiger” and “Nike.” The quality of the pieces is about what you’d expect for the price range, which means they feel like they might fall apart if exposed to the elements, and their design seems to be inspired less by any actual high fashion or runway references and more a rough approximation of luxury, where everything expensive is shiny, sparkly, or covered in (faux) fur. In the name of investigative reporting, I buy a pure white mock-neck sweater emblazoned with a black “Chanel” logo in the middle of the chest for 40 lari, or a little more than 16 American dollars. Against my better judgment, and likely to the chagrin of the Chanel legal department, I’m slightly elated with this painfully fake purchase: I don’t feel bad about the counterfeit couture, because it seems so entirely obvious that no one would think for even half a second that this was real. It feels a little like an in-joke, but I’m not entirely sure at whose expense. The storekeeper tells me in Russian that it “fits super” and tries to sell me a shirt that is plastered with an illustration of a model in a leopard-print dress and the phrase “Miss Vog’ue.” I catch up with Tamuna, who is photographing Tusia in a boxy top emblazoned in the “Moschino” logo that’s not that far off from some of Jeremy Scott’s recent runway hits.
We stop for a cup of sugar-drizzled Turkish coffee and make our way over to the footwear section, where we poke and prod the floral-print platform boots whose rubber soles reek of chemicals and find some sneakers that have “Adidas” misspelled on their tongues. I strike a pose next to a rack of rubber children’s “Gucci” boots in my new “Chanel” shirt, one of many Westernized bullies who have made fun of the easy-access fakes here today. And then Tusia spots a pair of woven gray and black sneakers on the wall. “Oh, my God—Yeezys!” she screams in Georgian at the pair of imitation Yeezy Boost 350s. “I was looking online; they are like 600 dollars!” There are no more knockoff jokes. We head to an ATM and return with a stack of 80 laris, around 30 American dollars. Tusia slips the bootleg Yeezys onto her feet and smiles, and for a moment, they almost look real.
The post At What Price Luxury? On the Hunt for Fast, Fake Fashion in Tbilisi, Georgia appeared first on Vogue.
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