Art and fairy tales of Sofia Gongli

Photography: Louisa Chalatashvili

There’s no trendier fashion destination in Eastern Europe than Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. After Demna Gvasalia’s success in VETEMENTS and Balenciaga, new names pop up with promising regularity. And one of them — Sofia Gongliashvili, a jewellery designer who received a special mention for the IFS 2014 designer award in London. Now a knitting line joined the jewellery.  

Her brand — Sofia Gongli — came up as something that strikes right into the heart. Though her designs seem simple and minimalistic, somehow they tell a story through colour, shapes, texture, technique. Symbolic, ethnic, very bright and full of light, mystical — you try to define it with lots of meaningful words but they won’t be precise enough. And when someone sees her bracelets and rings as wearable art, you couldn’t agree more. Only art pieces can inspire you with thoughts and reflections on your life, love, relationships, past, hopes for a future. Or not?

Sofia Gongliashvili, a jewellery designer

LIJ: Sofia, you’ve found a balance between ethnic and cultural elements and artistic expression, and the result looks as symbolic as any contemporary art object. What influenced your style?

I have loved fairy tales since my childhood, as well as very bright paints, colours. And I always enjoyed accessories with ethnic patterns and loved local Georgian artists that no one knew. I was looking into Indian design with quite particular drawings and paintings, that I couldn’t stop admiring. I was impressed by highlanders who designed the most elaborate carpets, embroideries. Those people are my sources for inspiration, my favourite artists and designers.

Though it’s not just artistic goals you are after, there’s a concept behind each of your collections — either your angle on social events, the matter of bad and good in people or women’s role in history. Quite a background that you share with journalists.

LIJ: But what about your clients? A lot of people appreciate the superficial beauty but they rarely look deeper. What do they see?

You know, lately I don’t really understand what’s going on in the world. I try not to get stuck in negativity, sad news. It feels like a bad dream, but there’s no end to it. I wake up at 7 am to feel the morning, to experience it. I want to start the day right, to keep my own fairy tale going on with my family — with children, husband, with my dog and cats. With my home and my flowers. So my process of inventing jewellery is my way to express my inner self.

Yes, I want people who see and buy my jewellery, my design, to know and understand the ideas I had in mind when I created it. So if they ask me I tell them what the concept was. But I don’t write and don’t insist on telling everyone how and why I made one or another piece because I don’t like to intervene.

I am really interested in what my clients think. And they share with me their own thoughts about symbols they see. Quite unexpected sometimes. Others write about their feelings: that they feel more confident. Some of them want to know everything about the creatures I made. «Is it a dog? What beast is it?». And I can’t say I always know the answer to such a question because sometimes those don’t have names. I’m sure only in my crocodiles that grow flowers within their bodies. You need to fall in love with them so crocodiles will turn into princes.

There are clients that have followed me for more than 20 years, they know me better and even recognize my influences in other jewellery designer’s works. And there are others who choose bracelets to match the colour of their nails. So what I want is to help people wearing my jewellery to feel and be a bit happier in their life.

LIJ: But really what is it that you make – art or accessories?

I was told once that what I do is wearable art. And there are markets, for example, Tokyo, where people buy my jewellery as art. And I like it to be art, because when I work on each piece I think and care too much about the concept. I guess when I will take it easy those things become accessories. Anyway It’s not me who says the last word.

LIJ: Your latest collections — jewellery and knitting. What story do they tell?

After all that happened last year I felt emptiness. It just came. Once I felt that all my characters and heroes were gone, and there was nothing instead of them. But I needed to start over — from a blank page. So I’ve made White jewellery collection. As for my knitting I always tried to add as much colour as possible.

And maybe this time it might seem as «too much»: everything is in different colours with charming animals embroidered over or with human eyes. That was a moment when I felt a need to remind myself about life, sea and travels. Even when you don’t have it, you can’t stop your mind from wandering. So it started from white and went wild with colours.

Jewellery and knitting collections are connected, because all my ideas come from my life experience, from my environment, that I want to change. But the process of the creation is what I love the most.

LIJ: What is that you miss most of all from your life before COVID-19?

I miss travelling. I haven’t travelled for more than a year. Paris, Milan, Istanbul — my favourite cities. Every city has its own spirit, but each time you need to catch it again. You try to find it again in places you visited 20 years ago, but it’s never there. I know that but I want to see what awaits me there anyway. I miss interesting exhibitions and events. Restaurants, cinemas. Beautiful clothes and people in beautiful clothes. You know it’s not about things or fashion, but about personalities and good taste. Most of all I miss meeting those people and admiring them.

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    20 November 2022