GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY

by Lou Stoppard

photography by Gosha Rubchinskiy

Today, every fashion designer is chasing time, running and rushing to beat the clock and stay ahead. Gosha Rubchinskiy has somehow succeeded in leading – he deals in new, albeit packaged up with nostalgia. The Russian image-maker has become the poster boy for a fresh type of fashion brand – one that embraces a sense of normality and the quotidian while eschewing the mainstream, one that challenges the establishment while existing right at the centre of it – after all, Rubchinskiy’s collections are produced, sold and marketed by mega brand Comme des Garçons. Rubschinskiy is known for casual clothing – t-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts – but for his most recent collection, S/S 17, shown in Florence at menswear trade show Pitti Immagine Uomo, rather than in Paris as usual, he surprised by promoting suits. But Rubchinskiy likes change - he’s already thinking about the next step. “I like to do things I’ve never made,” he says. He wants to change his show location again. Plus, he’s decided to debut a fragrance next season. His show is just over, but he’s moved on already. Time is important when understanding the Pitti move. On the Paris Fashion Week schedule, designers show on the hour, every hour. Shows become like sardines in a tin. It’s hard to impress or surprise, but most of all it’s hard to stand out. The fashion show as an event – one that is discussed and remembered and acclaimed – is rare. At Pitti, Rubchinskiy made good use of the slower pace. His was the highlight of the day – not one of many shows. This was a moment to remember. One felt glad to be there – lucky, even. Not that Rubchinskiy needs help making waves; his catwalk shows merge into happenings and meet-ups – almost like salons for his skate-crew and style followings, where like-minded youths get together to chat, share ideas and start their shopping lists for the next season. This collection delighted loyal followers but also impressed more broadly. It felt political, authentic, considered and timely, urgent even – the sense of pace was mimicked in the way the models strode purposefully. Going places, like Rubchinskiy. Rubchinskiy and I meet during the menswear shows in Paris, a week or so after his celebrated Pitti event. During our conversation, he mentions the word ‘new’ upwards of thirty times, usually repeating the same mantra; “I wanted to do something new.” It’s a desire that sums up his work so far; his collections, his photography, his books, the teenage models he champions, the deliberately small business model he’s constructed and, notably, the company he keeps. Much is made in the fashion press of this ‘new collective’, the ‘revolutionary’ team behind Vetements, headed by Rubchinskiy’s friend Demna Gvasalia (the new creative director of Balenciaga), stylist Lotta Volkova, who works across all these brands, and models and muses such as Paul Hameline, who walk in the shows and wear the clothes. Fashion, like Rubchinskiy, also loves the new.Given this thirst for something different, it’s surprising that Rubchinskiy picked Florence as the location for his recent show. There’s an accepted understanding across the fashion industry that there’s not much newness in Italy – it’s home to few young labels or maverick upstarts, and its main fashion moment, Milan Fashion Week, is dominated by heritage brands and luxury tailoring. The Pitti fair highlights this interest in tradition and sartorial regulation. It’s the world of the ‘Pitti peacocks’ – throngs of men in three-piece suits, brogues, pocket squares and other traditional props. Amongst all this, Rubchinskiy, a man better known for skateboards and sneakers, was an interesting anomaly. Rubchinskiy played Pitti like he plays the fashion industry in general; opting in in part - hence the Florence-friendly tailoring - and going his own way at the same time (see the teen models with insolent glares who stalked the runway). He avoided the magnificent Renaissance buildings that litter Florence and are usually home to Pitti’s events in favour of an abandoned 1930s tobacco factory. In some ways he celebrated Italy, in other ways he questioned it. For the former, he set up collaborations with famous Italian labels; Fila, Kappa, Superga, Sergio Tacchini and Retrosuperfuture. For the latter, he made pointed references to Italy’s fascist past, drawing parallels between Soviet Russia and the country under Benito Mussolini. “The venue was a location from Fascist Italy - it reminded me of Soviet architecture. It’s very Gosha - it looks like somewhere in Russia,” he explains. “I wanted to draw people’s attention to how it was in the 20th century - these ideologies. Maybe people need to think more and remember how it was – remember not to make mistakes again. Now, it looks like broken old ideas. It was a strong building in the Fascist era, but today it’s abandoned and broken. I want to show how ideas can be strong sometimes and then, when we see them from a different perspective, they can be nothing.” The venue offered the backdrop for the screening of a new film, The Day of My Death. A new book by Rubchinskiy shares the same name. The works are an ode to Italian filmmaker and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. Black and white and silent, save for classical music, the short clearly referenced him stylistically. But the plot, which featured a murder and a body run over by a car, was a further nod – a recreation of his mysterious death. Prominent in the work is Renata Litvinova, a 49-year-old Russian actress, director and screenwriter – a far cry from Rubchinskiy’s usual teenage male protagonists. In some ways, Rubchinskiy’s popularity has held him back. He’s been dubbed “the coolest skate brand to know” or “the best new t-shirt label” – the hypebeasts and street style pack are enamored. Perhaps this show was an attempt to distance himself from fast-fashion and product obsessed culture and hammer home a certain intellectual, social and political depth.

Lou Stoppard: In many ways this collection was a statement about Europe. Explain that interest to me. Gosha Rubchinskiy: When I came to Florence and saw this amazing location, the Manifattura Tabacchi, ideas started to come to my head. We wanted to do more than a show - a special project. A collection, a book and a film. It started becoming more than a collection - it was a project about Italy. At the moment, the question ‘What is Europe?’ is very important. Britain wants to leave and at the same time Europeans all want to be separated from Russia, partly because of what happened in Ukraine. There is an energy about Europe, especially because of the immigrant situation. There’s a discussion about what Europe means, so I wanted to pay attention to that. LS: So many of your fans and shoppers are very young. Do you feel a responsibility to educate young people about issues like these? GR: I just like to speak about things that are important to me. I think it’s an important thing with art - you need to be truthful with yourself and do things you believe in and, after, you don’t care. People can have their own reflections, they can see in it whatever they want. Of course, if someone can read the collection or the message and can understand, it’s good. And it’s good if after this kids learn more history and more art history, because this period – the 1930s – is important. LS: Do you want your work to be provocative? The team at Pitti mentioned your ‘social commentary’ when announcing that you’d be showing. GR: don’t want to be extravagant. I’m speaking about Europe now because I feel I need to speak about it. It’s not because I want to shock. If some people think it’s provocative, maybe it is for them. Of course, I don’t want to do grey things. I want to do things that are visible. If I speak, I speak strong. People like it or hate it. But I never want them to think, “Oh it’s just Gosha again.” LS: You opened your show with tailoring. That seems very appropriate for Pitti, which is often a real celebration of suiting. It felt like quite a playful nod to Italian style. GR:I would have shown it anyway, even if we showed in Paris. It felt new. Less tired. But, yes, Pitti was a good moment – and maybe it was funny. But it was Gosha suits, not typical suits. Kids are already saying they want to wear it. I already want to wear it. LS: You imply that kids are tiring of streetwear. GR: It’s too much. Every day people are starting a new brand doing t-shirts or sweatshirts. It’s too much, I think. People now want something new; a classic jacket or suit, it’s cool. And you can skate in it, if you want. I wanted to do suits you can skate in. That’s why it’s a bit oversized and a relaxed fit. LS: There are six collaborations within the collection. Five of those are with Italian brands, one is with Levi’s. How did you decide who to work with? GR: I’d wanted to do these kinds of collaborations long before this season. My idea was to work with sports brands, because if you want to do a perfect tracksuit you don’t need to do it by yourself, you need to go to a sports company and do it together. That was my first idea. We started to think who it could be - we all brainstormed. Who is it? What is it? Straight away we thought of Fila and Kappa. And we released that they are both Italian brands and we were doing the show in Pitti. That’s why we started to play around with that theme of Italy. LS:Italian sportswear has a fascinating history that’s very wedded to subculture. When you think of those brands you think beyond Italy to things like British casuals. GR: That history is important to me. Of course, I like these brands because of references from the 1980s, from British culture. But also these brands were very popular in the 1990s in Russian. My mother had a Fila sweatshirt. For me, it is something special. But it’s not just about nostalgia. It’s the moment for these brands - kids are tired of today’s mainstream brands. They could find some Fila in a vintage store and wear it, but they also want something new and cool. That’s why I wanted to do Fila/Gosha and Kappa/Gosha because it’s what they want now. I approached the companies and looked at what they have and what they can produce and just chose pieces I liked. We chose iconic things. Of course, if it’s Sergio Tacchini you have to do the iconic Tacchini tracksuit - the classic. Fila – it’s the sweatshirt with the big logo. Kappa - the prints on the sleeves. LS: You didn’t tweak the design? GR: It’s theirs, not mine. We changed fabrics or colours, but the shape is theirs - the original shapes. It may seem strange to the outside eye that these original designs suddenly have a new value when associated with Gosha, but Rubchinskiy’s greatest skill is the cult he’s created around him – the teens that stalk his Instagram and save up for his products. Today, fashion brands are nothing without a gang. It’s something that can’t be faked – it relies on authentic friendships, a social circle with a clear aesthetic and shared interests, and a symbiotic relationship where the designer feeds off his audience while giving back to them and pushing them forward. Olivier Rousteing at Balmain and Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy have succeeded because of this. As have brands more similar to Rubchinskiy like Palace and Supreme. The days where fashion brands could loftily remain disconnected from their buyers are over. Dialogue, rather than dictation, is important now.

Gosha Rubchinskiy by Lou Stoppard
Gosha Rubchinskiy by Lou Stoppard
Gosha Rubchinskiy by Lou Stoppard