Russia's Streetwear Superpower: Gosha Rubchinskiy
With his final collection having just launched at Fabric a few weeks back, we figured it was a good idea to do a quick recap of the designer who, just a few years ago, looked set to take over the fashion world. Born in Moscow in 1984, Rubchinskiy’s adolescence was spent in the shadow of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the final days of 1991, shaped by the failed promises of Communism and the increasingly failing state that was once its champion. His vision, as we know it now, was in turn shaped by the disenfranchised youth he grew up within the post-Soviet years, trying to forge a new identity for themselves through skateboarding and the logo-centric Western clothing that they had for so long been denied.
But considering the fervour that has surrounded Rubchinskiy these past few years, it is odd to think that he almost didn’t make it in fashion due to the difficulties he encountered working within Russia in his early years. Beginning in 2008 with just 10 t-shirts, the young designer staged his first show with the help of a friend in an abandoned sports stadium, to an audience of around 600 people. From here, Rubchinskiy was scouted by the former fashion editor of Russian Vogue, Anna Dyulgerova, who selected him to show in an “alternative fashion week” she had launched in 2009. Dyulgerova’s decision to include Gosha generated some minor press attention, as well as orders from overseas stores, which he was forced to turn down due to his minuscule production run, recalling, “I had to refuse because I only had one piece per size in every collection.” - BoF. His next showing consisted of 12 pieces at London Fashion Week, but upon returning to Moscow he decided to put his label on hold, instead turning his focus to photography and film, two interests that are still heavily interwoven with Gosha as we currently know him.
Fortunately, it was while working on his book TRANSFIGURATION in 2012 that Rubchinskiy was introduced by Dyulgerova to Comme des Garçons president Adrian Joffe, who was immediately smitten with the designer’s youthful and hopeful vision of Russia, a vision that resonated with his own love of the country. Speaking to the Business of Fashion, he recalls, “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.’” Joffe quickly placed an order for Dover Street Market, but the cost of producing it nearly sent Rubchinskiy bankrupt, as he wound up owing money on the collection. Destitute and distraught, Rubchinskiy was ready to call it quits before Joffe came with another offer: he, through the Comme des Garçons umbrella, would handle the production and logistics of getting the clothes to market, while Gosha was left to focus on their design.
Obviously, the decision was a major success; sales grew rapidly under Joffe’s mentorship, and from him Rubchinskiy learnt the ins and outs of navigating the fashion world beyond the studio. While progress was steady, the turning point, the moment at which Gosha became ‘Gosha’, was with his runway debut for Spring/Summer 2015. The collection was a hit, coming at a time when the fashion world had already begun to cast its collective eyes longingly back to the 90s, a yearning which Rubchinskiy’s post-Soviet style was made to sate. At the same time, streetwear favourites such as Supreme and Palace were starting to capture mainstream attention with their defiant, referential and irreverent attitude, in a sort of preamble to the streetwear obsession we now find ourselves in. With a shared fondness for skate culture, and a knack for making the divisive desirable (a la his trademark ‘hammer and sickle’ tees) Gosha Rubchinskiy slotted perfectly into this landscape, and between 2015 and 2016, it seemed as if his was the only name worth mentioning in fashion.
Photos: Gosha Rubchinskiy
Subsequent seasons elaborated on themes of sportswear and suburban Soviet dress, as Rubchinskiy embarked on a slew of collaborations with labels whose best days were several decades behind them, such as FILA, Kappa, and Sergio Tacchini. Further collaborations with the likes of Reebok and Adidas served to deepen Rubchinskiy’s signature look, while more recent collaborations with Burberry prove he is equally adept at recreating an image of a different type of urban youth, the chav counterpart to his Gorbachev era Gopnik. And although he flirted with more traditional menswear offerings in seasons such as Fall/Winter 2017 and 2018, Rubchinskiy has stayed resolutely committed to his signature style – though one has to wonder how long a designer can iterate on sportswear before it begins to feel stale.
Indeed, perhaps this is the reason that Gosha recently announced that the label, “as you’ve known it” would cease following the release of his Fall/Winter 2018 collection. Shortly after this announcement, it became known that Rubchinskiy was turning his attention to his new skate brand, PACCBET, the Russian word for sunrise and a motif that has appeared frequently in the designer’s previous collections. Set to be carried at his new Moscow store, OKTYABR, PACCBET (pronounced Rassvet) will hone in on Gosha’s love of skateboarding and skate culture, while the store is intended to act as a central space for the skateboarding community, much as Supreme did when it first opened back in 1994. It remains to be seen whether his original label will ever return, but even if it doesn’t, nothing will change the fact that for a few years from 2015, the only name that seemed to matter in fashion, whether you were 15 or 50, was Gosha Rubchinskiy.
Author: Nick Ainge-Roy