The man who made Russian fashion cool

Gosha Rubchinskiy grew up in post-Soviet 90s Russia fetishising the logos and brands of the west. Now, hes hottest name in mens fashion

If Moscow, with its punk and skater subcultures, is the next fashion destination, then Gosha Rubchinskiy is its poster boy. The Russian designer is not a household name, but thats hardly surprising. His clothes are tricky, esoteric even: gently oversized utility jackets, high-waist jeans tied with shoelaces; T-shirts emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. Along with Georgian/Parisian label Vetements, he is the hottest designer in menswear; his collections routinely sell out and today, during the interview, there are actual autograph collectors behind us.


Gosha Rubchinskiy: styles himself like a 1990s Muscovite. Photograph: PR company handout

Rubchinskiy, like his clothes, is a slave to nostalgia and still styles himself like a 1990s Muscovite. Short, slim with a shaved head, loose jeans and sweatshirt, he looks like the skateboarders he hung around with in Moscow in that decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Across his sweater is the Gosha logo , his name in Cyrillic written in a prosaic font, which has become fashions emblem for disenfranchised youth, a group that defines itself by its rejection of consumerism. Last autumn, his line of red T-shirts with hammer and sickle logos, which sold out almost instantly, were another example of what he is trying to do: subvert the space between catwalk and streetwear. The people who wear them are young, too young, in fact, to understand what the symbol means, but this doesnt matter to Rubchinskiy. In Ukraine last year we noticed kids buying clothes with the symbol thinking it was a fashion thing its almost lost its meaning, he says. So using it, its not that we believe in it, but that we are referencing what is going on in the world.


Gosha Rubchinskiys collection, SS17 Photograph: Gosha Rubchinskiy

His latest move is a unisex perfume, and, at the launch in Dover Street Market in London, his fans are exactly as he describes: teenage boys, Gosha-heads, who look and dress like the designer. Shaved heads. White tees. Pocket money in their palms. In high-fashion currency, his stuff is affordable (20 for socks, less than 100 for T-shirts) which is important to him, to make it more accessible to kids who are like me.


Gosha Rubchinskiy show, SS16, Mens fashion week, Paris. Photograph: SIPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Rubchinskiy, 32, was born in Moscow in 1984, and was in his first year at school when the USSR collapsed: I was six, so I saw the last Soviet moments and the early Putin era. He remembers the army shooting the government building, tanks rolling through the squares. But the biggest impact on this quiet boy who spent most of his time drawing, was what came after the collapse: fashion and culture, dancing in front of his TV to PartyZone, which was like being in a club, and zeitgeisty publications such as Ptyuch and OM, which laid down the blueprint for Russianlifestyle, music and culture in the way that the Face had done in Britain. I am a product of these magazines. We all are.


Gosha Rubchinskiy Eau De Toilette, By Gosha in collaboration with Comme des Garcons Photograph: PR Company Handout

We refers to his friends, a primordial generation of eastern bloc fashion types including Demna Gvsalia of Vetements and Lotta Volkova, the cult stylist. They come from Georgia and Vladivostok, respectively, and are all roughly the same age. The three met through Lotta, partied in Paris, and model in each others shows: Rubchinskiy opened the Vetements SS16 show in the infamous DHL T-shirt; Lotta styles both designers shows; and both have the capacity and power to fly in skater friends from Russia and Georgia to model. As a result their shows stand out as being decidedly unglam and street-focused. Katerina Zolototrubova, fashion editor of Russian Vogue, describes this look as Gopnik, a problematic term used to describe the bad boys from suburbs in Russia, and aesthetically not dissimilar to what is happening in the UK, with designers such as Caitlin Price and Cottweiller. Rubchinskiys pieces sit in the same frame, except with the skater twist (one of the last subcultures we have), wistfully referring back to the stuff they were wearing in the 1990s, including Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas and Nike. Everything was branded with logos. It was the first time wed had that. Im looking back at that. These are 1990s kids riffing on the nostalgic post-Soviet fashion of the Russian free market. Which, in short, is the very definition of cool at the moment.


Rubchinskiy opens the Vetements SS16 show at Paris fashion week modelling his infamous DHL T-shirt. Photograph: Kay-Paris Fernandes/Getty Images

It also mirrors the challenge youth faced before the collapse: how to be culturally engaged when commercial fashion was unavailable: We knew about it, the brands, the logos we just couldnt get it. Though Gosha wouldnt define himself as a communist, or talk directly about Putin, he thinks there is some good in most ideologies and, regarding communism, he speaks of the freedom and what it brought. Equally, though, his interest is in reflecting what is having a referential moment in fashion although Id say its more like Marxism and socialism. Its all on the table.


Cult stylist Lotta Volkova, Rubchinskiys influential friend. Photograph: Gosha Rubchinskiy

And its true. In the west, there has been a resurgence in youth engagement with leftwing ideologies. This, as in Russia, can be seen as a response to the excesses of capitalism, Putins Russia and the rise of inequality. What could be cleverer than to brand the nostalgia people feel for the Soviet Union, to take a memory of communism and put it into the capitalist sphere? The hammer and sickle has a clear definition but to this new generation, it has lost some of its historical and political context. Rubchinskiy is referencing the punk bands that used it when he was growing up. Its also a bit of humour. I want to provoke people, he says, smiling as a Gosha-head comes over for an autuograph. Rubchinskiy patiently signs. He wants to nip out to stock up on Lonsdale T-shirts, though another brand we couldnt get in Russia and, with that, heads off to Lillywhites.

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