At 28, Gosha Rubchinskiy has experienced life in Russia both before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Based in Moscow, he works with a group of friends—skater kids and other creatives—to design clothes inspired by a new generation of Russian subcultures. From T-shirts printed with Thrasher-font Cyrillic script to self-shot videos and lookbooks, Gosha's work is as much about current Russian culture as it is about fashion. This collection is his first at OC and also the first to be produced by Comme des Garçons, as part of a continuing involvement.
So what was it like to grow up in Russia in the 90s? Read our interview with Gosha below, check out the collection, and watch an exclusive video filmed by Gosha specially for OC.
Alice Newell-Hanson: There's a group of guys who reappear throughout your photos, films, and lookbooks. Who are they?
Gosha Rubchinskiy: When it all started, I was interested in a group of my friends: skateboarders and their world. My project was about them and for them. Streetwear is an integral part of it, like a uniform. The first collection was "Evil Empire" in 2008. It was about things that we enjoyed in our small company of friends, and two years later almost all young people in Moscow and St. Petersburg looked like that. We predicted the moment and now it is the most popular street style in Russia.
I have a circle of close friends who were my models, and grew up with me. We continue to spend time together, as a family. I'm interested in studying people. It helps me to understand myself more. But I also love to chat with new people; they are always a source of inspiration and something fresh. Everyone who meets us in our life teaches us and we will become their teachers—it's always very interesting. Most often, I'm interested in people who are older or younger than me, because I like seeing the differences between different generations' perception of life. At the start of new projects, I always rely on the new feelings and people, but pay attention to what happens with my old friends too.
ANH: Growing up in the 90s in the UK and the US, things like MTV and The Face were really important to us. What were your major cultural references in Russia after the wall came down?
GR: In the early 90s, Russia was flourishing with new culture. There was new pop and rock music, amazing TV, magazines, club culture, music videos, and commercials. Creative people were rushing to do what used to be forbidden, and with so much enthusiasm and passion. I was young then and still at school but everything that was happening around me affected me. It was an amazing time! New youth radio stations organized the first raves and music festivals, underground clubs and shops opened.
I read all about what was going on in new magazines like OM and Ptuch (that were similar to British publications like The Face). They were our bibles. We exchanged issues and read everything. My favorite was OM; I still have all the issues and it still inspires me. I sat at home and watched videotapes of movies with Schwarzenegger, and Queen and Jackson music videos. I tried to make costumes like Mercury's, and my friends and I used to recreate the makeup and clothes from Terminator 2. I painted portraits of the characters that I liked: the pop stars and the actors. Then, when I was 15—years later—a lot of cool new groups started here and foreign groups toured in Russia for the first time, so we went to concerts and festivals. This was the heyday of youth subcultures in Russia.
ANH: Do you think the younger, post-1991, generation missed out on experiencing a different kind of Russia?
GR: Today, [life in] Russia has become more comfortable in the big cities and adolescents are no different from European youth. But now, as there is everywhere, there is a crisis of art and ideas. There's none of the passion that we experienced in the 90s; everything is the same and boring. But I hope for the best and I'm sure that things will change soon. I am particularly afraid, though, of people who spend all their time on social networks, which I think are just stupefying. You have to direct all your energies to what you love and what you want to do.
ANH: So what is the creative scene like in Moscow right now?
GR: I don't really know. You should check it out for yourself! I like St. Petersburg more at the moment. There are more interesting young people and cool places.
ANH: Are there any emerging Russian artists you're into?
GR: Yes, some of my close friends, and you'll hear about them soon I hope!
ANH: What about music?
GR: My favorite band is Aquarium, a cult group from St. Petersburg which is celebrating its 40-year jubilee this year. Their music always inspires me. Their new album is called "Arkhangelsk" and we used it in our prints for the collection—it's very in tune with my thoughts. Even their old songs are always wonderfully suited to the moment. I also like the young band Elektra Monsterz, they're from St. Petersburg too. They play retro rock, and I used their songs for my new film. There's also a lot of electronic music written by my friends. A member of our team, Pasha Milyakov, who designs all of our graphics, put together a band called Midnight Cobras. They do little performances for friends and they get better and better every time.
ANH: Listening to the music you use, and looking at the lookbooks and the films, it's clear that there is a wider culture surrounding the brand. Why did you decide on clothing as its main expression?
GR: I realized, now that clothing is a part of my larger art project, it wouldn't be whole without it.
ANH: And now you've been able to take it further with support from Comme des Garçons. How did you become involved?
GR: After four notable collections and good sales at Dover Street Market in London, we had a large demand for our goods all over the world. But it's very difficult, and not commercially profitable, to produce and ship large orders from Russia, so I ran into difficulties. Fashion is not art, it's business, and I'm not a businessman. I thought I would just stick to art if I couldn’t find the right partner. But time passed and I found that partner in Comme des Garçons. Adrian Joffe learned about my difficulties and offered their support. Now they manage all the production and I get to see how it all works from the inside, which is a great experience for me. It was like a miracle. I am so happy to have such a professional partner.
ANH: Can you talk me through this collection?
GR: We decided not to do large collections and shows this time around. My collections are seasonless—they're just things that I want to do right now. This is the beginning of a new story, and we're launching a new website for it soon. Our “autumn” collection is about nostalgia, with classic skate things like long-sleeves, sweatshirts, and shorts. We used the colors and styles from the club culture of the late-80s and early-90s. The main theme is Arkhangelsk, a city in Russia. It was the first major port in the Middle Ages in Russia, and now it's a center for studying oil in the Arctic. So we did a print with an icebreaker named "Viking." We also like playing with meanings, so we used a font from one of our favorite bands, Burzum's, 1991 album cover. It was the year of birth of the new Russia and of a new generation, including many of my friends.
ANH: Where else do you want to take your aesthetic? Is there a direction you see your work moving in?
GR: All I want is for Russia to start meaning happiness. I'll try to make it possible. We'll see.