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The dA-Zed guide to Gosha Rubchinskiy

To coincide with the designer and photographer’s runway show and exhibition at Pitti Uomo, we give you a crash-course on the multi-hyphenate’s work and world

Gosha Rubchinskiy is one of contemporary fashion’s most agenda-setting polymaths. Born in Moscow, the designer and photographer studied at the city’s College of Technology and Design and, following the launch of his menswear label ГОША РУБЧИНСКИЙ in 2008, has garnered attention for taking inspiration from and documenting Russia’s youth culture. As well as putting the style of the country’s outsider young people on fashion’s centre stage, he works to empower them, fostering a community of like-minded, creative individuals.

Backed by Comme des Garçons, his label bridges the worlds between high-end menswear and streetwear, fostering with it a group of die-hard fans (they even have an unofficial Facebook group). Tonight will see him present his SS17 collection and as part of biannual menswear trade fair Pitti Uomo in Florence. To mark the event, we present a definitive guide on Gosha Rubchinskiy and his compelling universe.


Throughout his design career, Rubchinskiy has cited the work of Russian cultural iconoclasts as inspiration. For his SS16 collection, he looked to Alexander Rodchenko whose work, like his, crosses a variety of mediums. A painter, photographer, filmmaker, set designer, teacher, and metalworker, Rodchenko is primarily known as one of the founders of constructivism and is behind some of Soviet Russia’s most iconic images, such as his Literacy poster (1924). The influence of his work was evident in Rubchinskiy’s collection – in the Cyrillic script and sickle symbols emblazoned upon garments, and in the graphic sculptures some models wore around their heads and carried down the runway, as if they were Rodchenko’s paintings come to life.


While Rubchinskiy’s shows have been staged in a variety of places (see V IS FOR: VENUE), they tend to have one thing in common: the music. For several seasons now, the designer has enlisted Pavel Milyakov, aka Buttechno, a Moscow-based musician to create the soundtracks for them. The pair’s collaboration began when they met in 2009 – Rubchinskiy enlisted him to design a printed book and invitation for his second show that took place in Moscow. Each season, he creates a different sound depending on the mood of the collection and the references behind it. “The ‘1984’ (SS16) collection was deeply connected with 80s soviet rock and new wave aesthetics and you can hear it in the soundtrack,” he explains. “Last season’s soundtrack was more industrial and deep. There are always a mix of genres inside, some ambience, some spoken word, some rhythmic stuff of course. All the parts are connected with each other inside the final mix and working together like a narrative.”


Rubchinskiy’s eponymous label works in close collaboration with Comme des Garçons. In fact, Rei Kawakubo’s brand has managed the production, sales and marketing of his collections since 2012 – the only designer it has done this for outside of Comme’s own creative team. He and Comme’s president, Adrian Joffe, were introduced by Russian fashion insider Anna Dyulgerova who had worked with Rubchinskiy on Cycles and Seasons, an alternative fashion week she launched. At the time, Rubchinskiy was working on his Transfiguration Book, and Joffe offered to help with his production. “I’ve always loved Russia, the ex-Soviet thing, the language,” said Joffe in an interview with The Business of Fashion. “When I met Gosha, I understood why I loved it so much. This whole post-Soviet movement of people free at last and wanting to launch artistic things – it appealed to me and I thought, ‘This is the guy I’ve been looking for.’”


Rubchinskiy and Comme des Garçons’ collaboration doesn’t end there – the brand also stocks his garments at its Dover Street Market stores. In London’s new Haymarket location, they are sold in the Basement alongside Comme’s own ‘Good Design Shop’ diffusion line, those of other high-end designers like Junya Watanabe, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and Craig Green, and streetwear brands like NikeLab and Palace Skateboards. Currently, his clothes are hung on rails in front of a photographic backdrop of Moscow high-rises, sandwiched between Palace and IDEA’s respective spaces. Crucially, Rubchinskiy’s space won’t just be for him – he intends to use it as a platform for others, as in his collaboration with teen artist Valentin Fufaev, who he invited to sell a zine and some t-shirts in the space earlier this month.

“I’ve always loved Russia, the ex-Soviet thing, the language. When I met Gosha, I understood why I loved it so much... I thought, ‘This is the guy I’ve been looking for’” – Adrian Joffe


Rubchinskiy has staged several exhibitions over the course of his career. Two took place in 2010 – one in London’s Pleasant Gallery, the other in Berlin’s 032c Workshop – and a third happened more recently, last year, again at 032c. Featuring work from his second photobook, Youth Hotel, and a series of portraits he shot with stylist Lotta Volkova for 032c’s biannual publication, the latter exhibition was described by the photographer as “a global Gosha project, a 360-degree view of my ideas”. This week at biannual menswear trade fair Pitti Uomo, he will put on another exhibition entitled The Day of My Death, featuring more of his photography based on Youth Hotel and Transfiguration Book.


Like many celebrated fashion designers including Craig Green, J.W.Anderson and Meadham Kirchhoff, Rubchinskiy has ties with Lulu Kennedy’s London-based designer support scheme, Fashion East. In 2010, he presented his fourth collection, which was entitled ‘Slave/РАБ’, as a part of the scheme’s Menswear Installation at London Fashion Week. The presentation featured a short film of the same title, created in collaboration with Moscow-based sound/performance artist Aleksej Tarutz. Focussing on the kids that inspire him, the film documents a Moscow skate crew going about their day-to-day lives.


Like Palace’s Penrose triangle and Supreme’s box logo, Rubchinskiy’s graphics, which almost always reference Russia’s history and culture, prove that a good visual can go a long way. The designer’s logo tees are perhaps the most in-demand garments he’s designed. As well as the Communist hammer and sickle symbol that was conceived during the Russian Revolution, his designs have become synonymous with Cyrillic script. Garments in his most recent (AW16) collection were emblazed with the words ‘Save and Survive’ written in the script – a classical idiom in orthodox Russian.


Rubchinskiy is often written about in relation to his cult following, one which consists of young, usually male, streetwear obsessives. In fact there’s such high demand for his clothes among his fans that they sell out rapidly – his SS16 collection, for example, was snapped up from Dover Street Market in two days. And they’re regularly resold for considerably higher than the retail price on Instagram-meets-eBay shopping app Depop or on unoffical Facebook page Gosha Rubchinskiy Talk, which has over 13,500 members.


The designer has frequently cited the Iron Curtain as inspiration, drawing on a type of Soviet style that existed before it fell and Russia was opened up to foreign fashion influences. While this may be nostalgic, it’s actually contemporary, reflecting the way Russia’s youth of today are reappropriating the looks of that time period. You could see this in the designer’s SS16 collection, which comprised of 80s-looking Soviet-style sportswear – t-shirts, vests, short-shorts and trackpants. “It’s a very nostalgic moment for them,” he explained backstage, “but now they dress really like that in Moscow.”


Rubchinskiy’s world is about more than fashion and photography – it’s a community of like-minded individuals. One such person is Californian multidisciplinary artist and skater Julian Klincewicz, who has worked with Rubchinskiy on multiple projects. “Originally, I met Gosha through Instagram,” he told us. “I’d been familiar with his photography for a little bit, and felt really inspired and connected to what he was doing in fashion, so we started talking about working together on something.” That something was a film capturing the build-up to his AW15 runway show – more recently they worked on a video that was released in conjunction with his capsule collaboration for Vans. Last month, Klincewicz released a book – entitled ЖУРНАЛ (JOURNAL) – which documented his trip to Russia and his time spent with Rubchinskiy and his skate crew.


Rubchinskiy frequently cites young people and their “energy” as his inspiration. Yet he’s not appropriative – instead he creates for them, aiming to empower them through what he does. “The kids who inspire me are the goal of my work,” Rubchinskiy once said. “I do it for them first of all.” As well as photographing them, he casts them in his runway shows – at AW16 for example, nearly all his models were street cast or people he had already connected with, like English photographer and skater Tom Emmerson (see T IS FOR: TOM EMMERSON) and Russian artist and skater Valentin Fufaev aka @DOUBLECHEESEBURGERVF.


Part of the genius of Rubchinskiy’s runway shows is down to the styling which is done by Lotta Volkova, the Dazed contributing fashion editor who works closely on Vetements and Balenciaga with Demna Gvasalia. The Vladivostok-born stylist studied at Central Saint Martins, and met Rubchinskiy on a shoot in Paris and it went from there. “It felt like we knew each other forever,” she said in an interview with Vogue. “We both were born in the same year, 1984, so we have the same references, and mentality, in a way. We understand each other so well.” Volkova’s styling is characterised by off-kilter proportions and a punk sensibility, both of which she brings to Rubchinskiy’s shows. However, the pair’s collaboration goes beyond the parameters of the designer’s label – he opened Vetements’ AW16 show wearing the brand’s now-ubiquitous DHL t-shirt.  


Another crucial personality within Gosha Rubchinskiy’s universe is толя Титаев (Tolya Titaev), his muse. One of Vans Russia team's pro riders, Titaev’s relationship with Rubchinskiy began when he was young. “Tolya was 14 when he was in my first ever show,” the designer explained in an interview with AnOther. “I have watched him growing up and I use him throughout all my work.” You may recognise Titaev from Rubchinskiy’s SS16, AW15 and SS15 shows.

“The kids who inspire me are the goal of my work. I do it for them first of all” – Gosha Rubchinskiy


Rubchinskiy’s work, both in fashion design and photography, has been marked by his representation and celebration of a new, post-Soviet Russia and the young people that inhabit it. Speaking on this topic in the Summer 2014 issue of Dazed, he said, “Young people in my generation and the previous generation felt isolated, and we still feel disconnected to popular culture. The new generation has the internet and they feel like a part of something bigger; they want to be the voice of their people and spread the word that they are creative and can make cool music and art. This movement keeps growing. It’s a new Russia.” Rubchinskiy is a key proponent of this movement, shining a light on Russia’s creative renaissance and the young talents at its forefront – dismissing Western stereotypes about the nation in the process.


The designer and photographer has drawn inspiration from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, which uses themes from life in the Soviet Union. In his 2014 photobook Youth Hotel, he drew parallels between the author’s fictional totalitarian surveillance society and that of his homeland today and, more recently, for his SS16 collection he designed clothes emblazoned with “1984” itself.


One of the pieces Rubchinskiy is most synonymous with is his РАССВЕТ НЕ ЗА ГОРАМИ t-shirt. A riff on Thrasher magazine’s flame logo, the phrase loosely translates to “the dawn is breaking over mountains”, which is a Russian idiom. Originally released in 2012, the t-shirt has featured in several collection and was recently reissued by DSM as part of a special archive relaunch project – but of course, it sold out almost instantly. 


While Rubchinskiy’s label has shown on the Paris Fashion Week schedule for the last four seasons, his label enjoys the same kind of fan base as cult streetwear brands. Like them, the launch of a new collection or ‘drop’ comes hand-in-hand with a queue – usually a very long and slightly agitated one. As well as distinctive graphics (a prerequisite of a successful streetwear brand) and a certain cult appeal, this is down to the sheer wearability of his clothes. “If I choose fashion as a medium, I need to sell clothes,” he said in a recent interview with the Financial Times. Rubchinskiy's prices are democratic, bridging a gap between the high and low – you can get a print t-shirt for £50, or a sports jacket for £265, meaning that whatever your means, you can buy into his vision.


While he’d staged several presentations in Moscow a few years before (his first was in 2008) Rubchinskiy made his debut on the international show schedule at Paris Fashion Week in June 2014. The theme of the collection was “Arctida”, an island which used to be part of Russia, but which no longer exists. Since then, he’s continued to show in Paris – the exception, of course, being this season, when he’s showing in Florence as part of Pitti Uomo. “I didn’t want to show again in Paris,” he told the FT. “I wanted to move to a different city, do something different.”


Something that Rubchinskiy is inextricably associated with is skating – skaters make up the majority of his models and photographic subjects, and their style the inspiration for his designs. In 2011, he launched a project called Transfiguration in an island in Saint Petersburg – a “cultural hub” that featured a gallery space, photography workshop and skateboard bowl and was used to host exhibitions, live shows and skateboarding competitions.


Among Rubchinskiy’s muses and collaborators is teenage Londoner Tom Emmerson. As a photographer and skater, his interests have an obvious overlap with Rubchinskiy’s – he’s cited him as an influence and posted photos of himself wearing the designer’s clothes on Instagram. After meeting at the Youth Hotel book signing in Dover Street Market last year, Rubchinskiy followed him on the app and, several months later, cast him in his AW16 show. “I appreciate the designs,” he told us backstage, somewhat offhandedly, “Yeah, I like his stuff.”


Underground subcultures are another source of inspiration for Rubchinskiy – from the outsider skaters to the skinheads that hung out at Saint Petersburg’s TaMtAm club in the early 90s. This was most apparent in his AW16 collection which saw the designer draw on an array of subcultures including skaters, punks and skinheads.


Ever since his first show in 2008, Rubchinskiy has used unusal venues. His second show was staged in a disused Orthodox church-turned-gym in Moscow’s suburbs, his debut Paris Fashion Week show in an under-construction space in the city’s gritty 11th arrondissement, his SS16 show in a Protestant church and his most recent one in one of Paris’s oldest basketball courts. This season, as Pitti Uomo’s guest menswear designer, he is staging his show in Florence’s Manifattura Tabacchi – a bus and coach station which used to be a tobacco factory.


Gosha has gone global. Eight years after his first show, the designer’s brand is a worldwide fashion phenomenon. His collections are stocked in boutiques around the planet, from Dover Street Market, Goodhood, MACHINE-A and Oki-Ni in London to similar establishments in New York and New Zealand, Spain and South Korea, and of course, Russia.


Having achieved a cult status in fashion, Rubchinskiy has been a natural and enviable choice of collaborator for brands. To date, he’s collaborated with Supreme, Reebok and Vans, putting his spin on their trademark designs. He’s also designed a collection, that he described as collaborative, in homage to radical Russian artist Timur Novikov. “To me, he is the most interesting person from the 80s Soviet art generation…” he said in an interview with AnOther. “I think his energy suits very well what I do. That’s why I chose his works for this collaboration. I have been dreaming about it for a long time and now it can be possible; I met his daughter Maria and we talked about the project. She really liked the idea and we went for it!"


Last year, Rubchinskiy released his second publication (following on from Transfiguration Book, 2012) – an 118-page photobook entitled Youth Hotel. Comprising largely of photos of the young men that inspire him, the book represents a portrait of Russia’s next generation. “It’s not really about a youth hotel as such,” he said in an interview with AnOther. “It’s more about the culture of youth. For me that’s like a hotel, a glimpse of time, you can spend a small amount of time there, but you have to move on, the energy changes, you grow up”. Only 500 copies were made and, according to the publisher, IDEA, they sold out in less that two days.


As well as making two books, the photographer has created several zines including Aglec (2010) and Crimea / Kids (2014). The first was released in conjunction with his 032c exhibition while the second marked his first collaboration with IDEA. Like much of his photography, the latter zine focuses on Russia’s youth, featuring images of them sitting, skating, smoking and in one case, playing the xylophone. While this particular publication was sold for a price of £10, a copy recently went on sale on eBay for £500, 50 times its original value – another potent reminder of Rubchinskiy’s cult cache.