gosha rubchinskiy's berlin diary
We talked to the Russian fashion-photography wunderkind before the opening of his new exhibition in Berlin at 032c, and he shared a new series of portraits with us, as we sat down for a wide-ranging discussion of fashion and youth today, and why his...
Gosha Rubchinskiy enjoys working with clear references; 21st century Russia, the exoticism of the east, Cold War nostalgia, and subcultural groups of young boys, whether that's football hooligans, skaters or techno kids.
Since his first collection, Evil Empire, in 2008, to being taken under the wing of Rei Kawakubo, to his latest spring/summer 16 homage to Russian constructivism; in just seven years Gosha's name spelt out in Cyrillic has become an indelible symbol of cool.
He invites us into his world through the honesty of his photographs. A world that we otherwise rarely experience unfiltered and offers an authentic view on what it means to be young in Russia today. The subject of a big feature in this season's issue of 032c, the magazine invited Gosha to take over their gallery space in Berlin's Kreuzberg. During his stay in Berlin he kept a photo diary for us, shooting the city's youth in his inimitable style.
We met up with the designer to talk about his inspirations and aspirations, why we won't leave Moscow, and the relationship between Chanel and Supreme.
In 2009 you showed your third collection in London - the first time outside Moscow. That was pretty unusual back then. Do you remember the reactions?
For starters, the collection was really small. We got invited only one week before we had to show, so we had limited time to come up with something. That's why I decided we'd go with basics: sweaters, sweatpants, and so on. Additionally we produced a video about a boy and published a zine. I generally don't recollect reactions, either people love it or they hate it, I don't care. Of course people recognised me, but I only wanted to show my film and my vision. You always get the attention; let it be positive or negative reactions.
I remember that your clothing surprised me.
Really? Why was that?
Most of the other collections were outlandish and in a way loud. That wasn't the case with your designs. You created a certain atmosphere without trying too hard.
A lot of designers work that way these days.
Your approach is still different. Maybe that's why you're so successful?
Moscow and the kids have always been the most important things for me. We started the fashion project we in 2008, without thinking about it. The first show in Moscow was designed as a performance. I wanted to convey a feeling and the collection served as a means to achieve that. I didn't plan on pursuing fashion further, but after the show I was invited to participate in Cycles and Seasons, which was a kind of independent Fashion Week in Moscow back then. So I needed a new collection. This was followed by the invitation from London and so I made a third collection, and so on. Somehow this fashion project has grown and grown.
You managed to get fashion interested in Russia. How did you do that?
That's a difficult question. I just do what I like. I don't try to please anyone. People just want to hear interesting and real stories, I guess. And they want to know more about Russia and the kids there. Fashion is interested in young people like never before, their thoughts, their views on fashion itself, on clothes and so on. Of course, the energy of the youth plays a big part in it. Young people have a lot of energy.
More than ever, young people are a target group for fashion companies.
Yeah, of course, big brands flirt with skater culture and streetwear these days.
Skate decks as cheap accessories in fashion shows...
Yes! Because of this I want to make suits and formalwear in my next collection.
It is weird that until the late 90s ready-to-wear and streetwear were strictly separated, and now, a collection without trainers is just unimaginable.
Fashion is about stories. Yves Saint Laurent told his, as well as Lagerfeld and Jean Paul Gaultier. These designers represent a different world. There was a shift in the late 90s, fashion discovered youth culture and the stories of young people. People like Hedi and Raf based their work on it. Streetwear brands like Supreme could only get as big as they are because of them. Over time the market changed. People want to hear new stories every day, and they look for them.
You need to give things a soul. Fashion itself is nothing. Luxury is in the eye of the beholder and you can make it. The right story turns even a beer bottle into a luxurious item, so that you want it and you would die for it. Whatever it is: the product itself is not important. A Supreme sweater can be as desirable as a Chanel dress.
The story of the Chanel dress is more like a fairy tale. Your story is real.
But the dress can also be a dream. For people who can't relate to my story of Russian teenagers it isn't a reality, not an immediate one.
Streetwear is everywhere. Not only is it acceptable for straight guys to have sense of style and fashion but also a sought-after quality. Could this make our society more tolerant?
I doubt it. I see a lot of guys in Moscow in skinny jeans. Five years ago, the same guys would have called other guys wearing skinny jeans faggots. That's only marketing. As soon as Adidas launches skinny tracksuit bottoms, these guys will wear it. When Raf and Hedi created skinny jeans 15 years ago, that was regarded as queer and weird. But no one cares when it's a mass-market product.
Speaking of appearances. You're on Instagram. What do you think about it?
Instagram is fantastic. It brings people together. The news only teaches us to hate each other: the Chinese, the Russians, everyone. There are bad people everywhere. You see kids from Korea or Russia on Instagram and you realise they are actually nice and share the same attitude as you. Young people all over the world listen to the same music and wear the same clothes. Skaters in Paris recognise me and say that they support Russia and the kids. They don't believe the crap they report in the media. Instagram shows them how we really are. That's groundbreaking. You can follow people all over the world and you begin to see the reality of it all. For me personally, it helps a lot during the casting process.
On the other hand, Instagram breeds competition. Profiles represent dreams rather than the reality.
Everyone wants to be an artist. And it is easy to become one on Instagram. Sure, some people use it as means to produce an image, but that's not everyone. There's also a lot of reality on the Instagram too, it depends who you follow. It's a human desire to create something. And through Instagram it is accessible. I constantly discover new, talented people, drawings, pictures, and videos. That's a good thing.
The West still regards Russia as this strange mystery, though.
That could change if the West tries to accept Russia as part of their world. People are always a little bit afraid of Russia. Perhaps the West should stop worrying and start loving. I'm happy to help.
Do you think that the growth of social media has had any impact on the motivation of young people? To me, it seems like competition replaced the rebellious spirit.
Maybe it is because we have lived in a world of old people. No cared about young people. If young people are being taken seriously, there's no need for a rebellion anymore. Old people used to ask 'What's wrong with the youth?' We wanted to get heard. We wanted to be seen. We wanted to create something. That's super easy nowadays.
Is that change a good thing?
We will see. I maintain my positive worldview. Perhaps it will change in ten years time? Instead of youth, the old fascinates us, or philosophy, or science or outer space. We might even decide just to wear suits, forget about fashion and start to be excited by technology and astronomy. Old people might be the youth of tomorrow.
Do you still skate?
Rarely. You have to do it every day. After you take a break, it's hard to get back into the game. It is difficult in Moscow anyway. You only have three months a year where you can skate outside. And during the winter I don't have the time to go to a skate park. Sometimes I make time though.
What does skating mean to you?
You meet new people even you're shy. It brings people from different cultures together: musicians, artists. There are so many different types of people who make up the skate community in Moscow: photographers, filmmakers, and musicians. You come together and you create something new.
What is it about skating specifically that inspires you?
I like real things. When I start working on a new collection I know that I don't want to do something weird or unnatural. Skaterwear needs to be comfy. Skaters have their own style, their own tricks, their own way of dressing. That makes this scene so interesting, that's why this scene inspires me. Their clothes are fashionable and comfy at the same time. And they are suitable for everyday use.
You mentioned earlier that you don't care what other people think about your work. Do you think you got that attitude from the your time as a skater?
Yes. I mean, you don't care how other people skate. From the beginning, you learn to find your own style. Eventually you copy one or two things. Skaterwear is similar. I know the Supreme guys. Five years ago, they were laughed at. The same people saying their fashion is ugly wear it now - like so many. You have to believe in yourself and you learn that from skating.
Is that your motif? To empower youth?
I don't know. Rather than think about it, I like to create things and realise my ideas. Afterwards it is not my work anymore. I set it free. People can see in it whatever they want, or find the meaning behind it. I don't care. I'm pretty simple. I'm happy if my thoughts become reality.
And why do you want to do suits next?
Otherwise it would be boring. Young people and skateboarding again? I want to design suits and business clothes, just plain and simple. At least that's the plan for the next collection.
What else inspires you?
I watch other people constantly. The most important thing is energy. If you meet someone, you just feel it. At the moment, I have the feeling that's the right way for me. Different boys from different parts of the world inspire me. Nevertheless, they think alike. And my collection brings them together.
In an interview, Raf recently said that fashion has become pop and that times were better when fashion was more elite. What do you think about that?
I agree with him. In the late 80s and beginning of the 90s, fashion was like a dream world, not far from being contemporary art. Designers like Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela were like artists, they really created something. Surely they inspired Raf and other designers, if not awakened their interest in fashion to begin with. But we live in different times today. Streetwear is everywhere and fashion has become very commercial. Perhaps it would be better to do something crazy, like Alexander McQueen did, or Rei Kawakubo is still doing today. Every collection of hers is crazy, so hardcore. Her cloths are pieces of art rather than garments. I think - similar to Raf - she wants to tell us how important it is to do something wrong, something contradictory.
You compared a Chanel dress with a Supreme hoodie earlier. Hype can compensate for any difference in quality.
That's true. Quality and feelings were the things that mattered most in past, today it is about an image and an accessible vision. People generally don't care about the fabrics or workmanship anymore. If they want something, they'll buy it anyway, no matter how it looks like on them, what counts is image.
Without the hype, these pieces are nothing.
Yes, that's how I see it as well.
On the other hand, who are we to judge? That might be a good thing.
I believe everything works, everything is possible. If you want to do something, you have to do it, whether that might be weird dresses or simple tees, just do it. Look at what Raf did: he does what he wants, whenever he wants it and he becomes creative director of Dior. When he wanted to quit, he just did it. That's the only way. You just need to decide what is that you want to do and not look back. That's all.
You decided to work and live in Moscow. Would you ever live somewhere else?
There's no reason for me to. That's something other people do because they want to see something interesting or they miss something. And that's not the case with me. I can work and live in Moscow and it is always interesting. I get inspired here and, actually, I have everything I need here. There's the internet and Instagram, I know what's going on in the world. It isn't that important where you live anymore, as long as there's an Internet connection -- you could live in the forest and work from there if you want.
Do you see any similarities between Berlin and Moscow?
Berlin and Moscow have a lot in common: the architecture, art, many things look the same. But the attitude in Moscow isn't right: the city is about big money and power. Berlin is pretty much the opposite.
These situations can sometimes function as motivation: to find ways to work around it or to fix it.
Yes. But Russians are very honest people. We laugh, we hate, and we love because we believe in something. The concept of internal contradictions is foreign to us. Things are what they are. The entire time things happen that no one expects. That's why I like to stay there: the uncertainty makes it exciting and constantly creates change.
Text Tim Neugebauer
Photography Gosha Rubchinskiy