In an abandoned factory in Florence, the Russian designer brings back Italian brands Kappa and Fila and makes his claim for a united Europe
In the overgrown courtyard space of an abandoned tobacco factory, beneath the rusted hands of a clock which had, at some point, given up to remain pointing to twenty past three forever, the scene was set for Gosha Rubchinskiy to take on his biggest stage yet. Having ditched Paris for Pitti (and having found the most Russian-looking building in Florence to present in), to say the designer’s SS17 show was eagerly anticipated would be an understatement. Over the past few years, his clothing has garnered both critical respect and, more importantly, a community of devoted followers.
The first element in an artistic triptych that also includes a film and a photographic book and exhibition, the show began with a model striding into the space in a black suit, paired with a thick silver chain necklace. It was oversized, intentionally ill-fitting, and the perfect opener for a collection that was about re-aligning perspectives on what Gosha Rubchinskiy is capable of as a brand, challenging any remaining non-believers who might write him off as someone who just makes Soviet-inspired t-shirts. “We wanted to do something new, something suited to the moment,” Rubchinskiy expressed post-show. “Everyone is tired of streetwear – it's the moment for the suits.”
The tailoring wasn’t the only nod to Italy. Three looks in, and a t-shirt appeared, bearing a familiar logo – that of Fila, the out of favour sportswear brand, with Rubchinskiy’s name beneath it. As the thudding beat by Moscow-based artist Buttechno (aka Pavel Milyakov, a longterm collaborator) continued, overlaid with the slowed-down voice of Italian auteur Pasolini reading his own poems, the outfits morphed into striking looks bearing the branding of vintage Italian sportswear. There wasn’t only Fila, but Kappa and Sergio Tacchini, all legitimate collaborations rather than logo-flipped knock offs, all borrowed with sincerity and an appreciation for their cultural value rather than irony or appropriation.
“I am not fashion” – Gosha Rubchinskiy
“For me it’s very Italy and very Gosha,” said the designer, who was inspired by the way young friends on Instagram, “tired of popular things”, are deliberately opting for vintage sportswear from brands now no longer considered fashionable. Despite their heritage, Rubchinskiy noted that there was something universal in these clothes too, and he’s right – kids everywhere won’t only recognise the references, but will want to buy into them. ‘Post-Soviet’ is the phrase often lazily branded across Rubchinskiy’s work, but this collection had a wider field of vision; it was European.
Rubchinskiy has referenced Italy before – for AW15, he looked to the Paninaro subculture of the 80s, clashing it with Russian football hooliganism and even Chinese characters. The same spirit of cultural coming together was here, too. “It’s about Europe now,” he explained of his inspirations, openly discussing both Britain and Russia’s growing isolationism and offering a warning against the rise of both far right and left groups. “This is the time when people need to collaborate and connect with each other, because we have the internet – everyone knows what's happening around the world so it’s stupid to be isolated. Let's try to find words and ways to speak and live with each other. This is the main message.”
After the show, the audience moved inside the factory into a cavernous room to watch the film, created with Russian arthouse director Renata Litvinova. A neo-realist style tale of voyeurism, sex and death, and filmed around the abandoned building, it channeled the space’s eerie sense of the past, translating familiar elements of Rubchinskiy’s work into a new historical, geographic and artistic context. The two brothers who made an appearance for his SS16 lookbook reappeared as army boys, who accidentally murder a third before driving away – his death a mystery, like that of Pasolini, to whom it was dedicated. Opening today, the accompanying exhibition will complete the trio. A filmmaker and photographer as much as a designer, you get the feeling that Rubchinskiy has been waiting years for the opportunity to so coherently display the elements of his artistic vision together – Pitti provided that occasion.
A short walk away from the venue, someone had spraypainted a hammer and sickle on a crumbling wall. The symbolism was strangely fortuitous; here was Gosha, a Russian in Italy, whose vision of Iron Curtain youth has captivated attention far beyond the skate parks of Moscow. Forging a creative community (many of whom, like muse Tolya Titaev and collaborator Valentin Fufaev were present yesterday), expressing his work through zines, books and film, he’s proved time and time again that there’s far, far more to his vision than a decades-old symbol of a fallen dictatorship. If anyone was still in doubt, yesterday’s show was proof. “I am not fashion,” he said with a smile backstage, and it’s true. Gosha Rubchinskiy is so much more than that.