Going beyond the post-Soviet skatepark, the Russian designer delves into subcultures of the past to form a new tribe
After last season’s sports hall, it was the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, a beautiful, run down looking venue in the north of Paris that Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy chose to stage his AW16 show in. Considering the collection's theme – ‘Save and Survive’, a classical idiom in orthodox Russian – it was an appropriate venue; since its establishment in the 1870s, the theatre has had a famously chequered history. Passing through fifteen artistic directors in its first decade, it spent a century being bounced between owners, none of whom could afford the proper maintenance to keep it open. Yet it remains – a little battered, its gilt faded, chandeliers missing, but still, surviving.
It was this message – save and survive – that Rubchinskiy said he wanted to impart to the generation who are following his work, something that was symbolised by his gang of young, street cast models, flown in to Paris from all over the world. With an audience seated on the theatre's stage rather than the stalls, the models appeared through a cloud of smoke, with hair shaved into close buzzcuts and dyed a variety of colours. They wore garments that riffed on a plethora of subcultural references, from punk to 90s skate culture and skinheads – like the ones Rubchinskiy said hung out at the TaMtAm club in St Petersburg in the early 90s. From Russian rave culture to the art of Alexander Rodchenko, Rubchinskiy has always had an element of cultural archiving in his work – this season it seemed like he was preserving the way teenagers had forged geography-defying subcultures against the most unlikely of backdrops.
“There was a lot more to this collection than the graphic sportswear staples (which you’ll currently see being worn by at least one attendee at every show in Paris)”
The designer’s signatures – tracksuit bottoms pulled almost awkwardly high on the waist, t-shirts and hoodies all decorated with Russian lettering – were present, but this season he played more with proportion and perception, letting trousers fall in voluminous waves and giving sweatshirts two sets of cuffs. With leather jackets lined with shearling and jumpers with intentionally kitsch patterns or long, trailing sleeves, there was a lot more to this collection than the graphic sportswear staples (which you’ll currently see being worn by at least one attendee at every show in Paris).
The show notes stated that the collection formed the “end of a cycle” in Rubchinskiy’s work. Over the past eight years, he's made a name for himself, garnering the kind of cult fandom that means there are queues around the corner at Dover Street Market every time he drops a collection or releases a book. Occupying a space somewhere between the high conceptualism of the other brands in the Comme des Garçons family (Rei Kawakubo was there yesterday to watch the show) and the off-schedule, sought after streetwear of the likes of Supreme, he has come to represent the blurring line between the two worlds of menswear. With pieces as desired by teenage skater fans as the fashion crowd, Rubchinskiy is an anomaly. He’s creating things people want to wear, and with democratic price tags that mean even the kids that walked in the show can buy into his vision. These clothes aren’t just made to be worn in post-Soviet skateparks. But they can be. And that’s the beauty of it.