Think Russian fashion and 20-something creative Gosha Rubchinskiy isn’t the first thing that’ll dart into your mind – more likely it’ll be hyperaccelerated images of ultimate glamour, mink coats, crystal embellishment; lives lived beside bodyguards in blacked-out, armour-plated limos. A Duran Duran video with subtitles in Cyrillic. That perception will change thanks to Rubchinskiy, who has quietly been building an underground following (worldwide) for charged art – his clothes are supported by zines, films, photography and exhibitions – built on post-Soviet youth, their thoughts, dreams, frustrations and burgeoning identities. They find these through music, hanging out and skateboarding, in a kick-push liberation inherently coloured by the spirit of rebellion and independence.
DIY and hipster culture is the thing now, but I'm out of it. I love strange and ugly things sometimes. People from subways and suburbs are always interesting for me
After a year of not making anything to wear under his own name due to production problems that caused him to focus solely on his photography and art, Rubchinskiy is back with a collection of seasonless clothes – sweatshirts, shorts, jerseys – that mean more than any show-off furs. The designs comprise a uniform for his friends, and contain semiotic references to their lifestyles. His works incorporate Russian iconography, traditions, modernity and the future, distilling all that into a statement of building, burgeoning optimism. The liberty and passion of youth. This is exactly why he has the potential to become a fashion great. It’s a real irony that his clothes could be called "simple", as they are anything but.
Dazed & Confused: After a sabbatical from making clothes, you're back with a new collection...
Gosha Rubchinskiy: We had a break of about a year from making clothes. The exception was a small collaboration with the American cult brand Altamont for spring 2012. That was the first collaboration of Russian and American skate scenes, and now the garments are rare and hard to find. After four of my own-name collections, with good sales at London's Dover Street Market, we had demand from all over the world. But it's very difficult and not commercially profitable to produce and ship large orders from Russia. I ran into difficulties. Fashion is not art as a business and I'm not a businessman. I thought that I would just deal with visual art if I couldn’t find the right partner. Time passed and I found such a partner in Comme des Garçons. Adrian Joffe learned about my difficulties and offered their support. Now they help me with production and I'm very pleased, it is a great experience for me. It's like a miracle – this is what I need, and now we are back doing fashion. My collections are out of season, they are just things that I want to do right now. This is the beginning of a new story, and we will soon launch a new website for it. Our autumn collection is the nostalgia game, with classic skate things like long-sleeves, sweatshirts and shorts. We used colours and styles from club culture in the late 80s and early 90s. The main theme is Arkhangelsk, the first major port in Russia during the Middle Ages and now the centre for the study of oil in the Arctic, so we did a print with an icebreaker (an ice-strengthened vessel) named Viking. Playing with meanings, we used a font from the cover of Burzum's first demo in 1991, one of our favourite bands. That was also the year of the birth of a new Russia – and a new generation of people.
Does it feel good to be making clothes again?
I realised the clothing is a part of my big art project and it wouldn't be that the same without it.
In the early 90s, Russia was flourishing for new culture. It was new pop and rock music, amazing TV, magazines and club culture, music videos and commercials. All creative people rushed to do what used to be forbidden, and with great enthusiasm and passion
When did you become interested in streetwear?
When we started it all, I was interested in a group of my friends, skateboarders, and their world. My project was about them and for them. Streetwear is an integral part, a uniform. My favourite piece is a sweatshirt.
Do you see that you’ve opened up Russia to a new, authentic style?
The first Gosha Rubchinskiy collection was 'Evil Empire' in 2008, enjoyed by our small group of friends. Two years later, almost all the young people in Moscow and St. Petersburg looked like this. We pre-empted the moment and now it is the most popular street style in Russia. After what we did, a lot of new, small, street brands started appearing. We have shown that it is possible to make your own story. Our work has the impetus of development – many people began to do something different because they liked or did not like what we do. It's the same with the photos, lookbooks and zines, which we have always supported the collection with. We did it first in Moscow and now it has become popular. I don’t like everything though as many are stupidly copying what is already there and better in Europe and America. But I respect any endeavour and aspiration. It is better than inaction and it's experience.
Street style is very popular today in Moscow...
DIY and hipster culture is the thing now, but I'm out of it. I love strange and ugly things sometimes. People from subways and suburbs are always interesting for me.
What about the climate you grew up in? How was your experience?
In the early 90s, Russia was flourishing for new culture. It was new pop and rock music, amazing TV, magazines and club culture, music videos and commercials. All creative people rushed to do what used to be forbidden, and with great enthusiasm and passion. I was young then and went to school but all that happened around me and affected me. It was an amazing time! New youth-radio stations organised the first raves and music festivals, and opened the underground clubs and shops. I read all about this in new magazines like OM and Ptuch that were no worse than Brit versions like The Face. They were the bible for us. We exchanged issues and read everything. My favourite was OM magazine and I still have all the issues, it still inspires me. I sat at home and watched videotapes of movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and music videos of Queen and Michael Jackson. I tried to make costumes like Freddie Mercury, I tried to do make-up and pieces like in Terminator 2 with my friends. I painted portraits of pop stars and actors I liked. When I was 15, years later, a lot of cool new groups started here and the first tours of groups from abroad happened. We went to concerts and festivals. This was the heyday of youth subcultures and trends in Russia.
What does it mean to be a teenager in your country today?
What I really do not like in youth now is this policy of treating modern protest as a game. They do not understand the real situation in the world and within the country, and become victims of people who use them. I am afraid of guys conducting all their time in social networks, contributing to the deprivation of core values and stupefying. You must direct all your energies to things that you love and what you want to do. Only your work shows an example. I think that might just change something, not talking and complaining.
Do you have people you love to photograph regularly? What do they teach you?
I have a circle of close friends who were my models, and grew up with me. We continue to spend time together, as a family. I am interested in studying people, it helps me to understand myself more. I love to chat with new people, they are always a source of inspiration. Everyone we meet in our life teaches us, and we will become their teachers. It’s always very interesting.
Moscow Stalinist architecture impresses me, a monument of the Soviet era and riding the tram in Moscow at the weekend is the best!
Music is a strong undercurrent in your work. What are you listening to?
My favourite band is a cult band, Aquarium, who come from St. Petersburg and celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. Their music always inspires me and their new album is called Arkhangelsk. We used it in the prints for our collection as it is in tune with my thoughts. Even their old songs wonderfully suit the moment. I also like a young band, Elektra Monsterz, also from Petersburg – they play retro rock and I used their songs for my new film, in which there'll also be a lot of electronic music written by my friends. A member of our team and designer of all our graphics, Pasha Milyakov, founded a non-professional band of musicians called Midnite Cobras. They do little performances for friends and each time they are getting better and better. We’re going together to visit our graffiti friends in Yalta on the Black Sea for a concert soon.
If we came to Moscow for a weekend, where would you take us?
Moscow Stalinist architecture impresses me, a monument of the Soviet era and riding the tram in Moscow at the weekend is the best! There's the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Art Museum and the Cathedrals and museums of the Kremlin. If you have time you need to visit the centre of Orthodoxy at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk) near Moscow, with an amazing atmosphere and frescoes by Andrey Rublev. Maybe the music conservatory too and a walk up to Gorky Park, a perfect place for skating now. In former Moscow factories there are secret clubs and little shops. But if you want to see more youth culture, you need to go to St. Petersburg. It is full of small bars, artists' studios and squats. My perfect weekend there would involve a visit to the Hermitage, Russian Museum and a trip to the Gulf of Finland, partying on the beach with the surfers and my skater friends.
You've come back strong after time off pursuing photography and art. Tell us about the work you've been doing. What about your Transfiguration project, is that continuing?
I continue do art and photography, shooting stories for magazines. I was chosen as a talent by Foam in 2011, taking part in an exhibition at the Amsterdam photo museum, which had great success. We show our old Slave project at the Status show in Winterthur photo museum this summer. Last summer in St. Petersburg on the island of New Holland was amazing. The architectural monument of the ancient island is a cultural center now, Dasha Zhukova’s new project. I was pleased to participate – we had a workshop and spot for skating there. The result of this residency is my art project, Transfiguration. The book and the movie will be released this summer, a video and photo portrait of skaters from St. Petersburg.
Film, photography and styling Gosha Rubchinskiy