gosha rubchinskiy does burberry in st. petersburg
The check-mania of the early 00s was back on Friday as Gosha Rubchinskiy collaborated with Burberry for his spring/summer 18 show in St. Petersburg. i-D spoke to Gosha, Christopher Bailey and Stephen Jones about the collection.
Image courtesy of Gosha Rubchinskiy
It's one of the most famous snapshots in post-modern British history: Danniella Westbrook circa 2005, drenched in Burberry check, pushing a Burberry pram down the street. The paparazzi picture represented the culmination of the elevated chav culture, which had adopted Burberry and its famous check as a status symbol. "You know, I have never been snotty about it, because I feel that's a very important part of our history," Christopher Bailey said over drinks at the Astoria in St Petersburg on Friday night. He'd flown in to see the spring/summer 18 collection he'd collaborated on with Gosha Rubchinskiy, and knowing the Russian designer and his ironic ways, how could it not be an ode to the past Burberry once worked so hard on putting behind them? It came with climactic force in look 25, in the dilapidated former youth club Rubchinskiy had taken out for his show: an all-check Burberry look, Gosha-fied with typical normcore blasé in an oversized shirt, boxy sports shorts, and a flap cap by Stephen Jones. "I only reflect what I see and know in Russia. English people know more about chavs. But I have football fan friends, who are a generation older than me, and they were all about Burberry," Rubchinskiy recalled late that night, in a quiet room in the former WWII bunker that played host to his after-party. "I see Burberry as the perfect thing for now, for us. Like, it's perfect for me," he stressed, a big smile on his face.
In the current zeitgeist that built his brand, collaborating with Burberry is gold. Fifteen years after Danniella Westbrook and the WAGs took ownership of the Burberry legacy and the company -- led by a newly hired Christopher Bailey -- was faced with the challenge of rebranding it and returning it to high-fashion glory, a new generation of fashion-fanatical youth is celebrating the trademarks of the working class culture of the 90s and 00s. Point in case: Madonna's teenage son Rocco Ritchie, who is frequently papped running around London dressed like a scally lad--tracksuit bottoms, oversized leather jacket and a handful of silver rings in tow. Rubchinskiy and the new avant-garde -- Vetements, Off-White, Cottweiler -- are responsible for it, and they know to pay homage to the pioneers: "This season we made some patterns inspired by David Beckham in the late 90s; his oversized jersey and everything," Rubchinskiy said, describing his ongoing collaboration with Adidas, who got several logo checks in the collection. Like last season's show in Kaliningrad, Rubchinskiy had based his new collection on the upcoming World Cup hosted by Russia and his own British associations with football. It was the Brits, who first brought football to Russia via St Petersburg in the 19th century, he explained.
"St Petersburg is a window for the Western World to Russia. It was the same for football, for 80s' music, for 90s' electronic music. I was born in Moscow but I think my favourite city is St Petersburg. Ever since my school years, I've tried to go here for my holidays. I was here in 1998 for my first night parties: amazing music, energy, underground," Rubchinskiy reflected. "Where Moscow is more about money, St Petersburg is about freedom." Indeed, his show venue - the DK Svyazi - was where cult artist Timur Novikov organised the first-ever rave in Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain. And with its imperialistic European architecture staged by tsar Peter the Great, St Petersburg does look every bit the Western World capital. Bathed in the bright light of the White Night, a phenomenon that occurs here this time of year and illuminates the evening in broad daylight, it's not hard to see St Petersburg as the old Russian capital of enlightenment. Asked if he's tiring of questions about Russian politics and Putin, Rubchinskiy brushed it off. "I mainly get questions about Trump now!" For Bailey and his fellow Englishmen, who landed to news of Theresa May's bonkers election on Friday afternoon, the even crazier political landscape of Eastern Europe was, perhaps, a welcomed escape.
Back in England, Bailey had been working on his September 17 collection for Burberry (named so because of their straight-to-store format), and when Rubchinskiy - whose photography and collections he'd long "admired and respected from afar" - contacted him out of the blue early this year, the Halifax-born designer realised they'd been thinking about the same things. "Gosha has a true authenticity and integrity with the way that he translates his own Russian culture and heritage and he had a lot of interest and excitement around the way that Burberry reflects British society and culture. He's taken some of those real icons of what Burberry stands for and translated those into his world," Bailey said. "And what was interesting was that I was working at the time on [the Burberry collection] and what he was excited about was a world that I was starting to explore. It all made sense, it was a real seamless kind of shared world." Applied to Rubchinskiy's Russian realm, the British class spectrum - with all the tribes and stereotypes it represents - became an amalgamation of "football, fashion, and music: the things, which can unite people," the Moscow-based designer explained. "I started remembering how I felt in 1998 when I first came here, and the nightlife was so strong," he said of St Petersburg. The sentiment generated the rave elements in the collection courtesy of psychedelic tie-dye.
Stephen Jones, who celebrates his 40th anniversary as a milliner this year, designed three hats for the show--one inspired by a number he'd done for an old Comme des Garcons Homme Plus show, another a take on a 30s' Japanese golf hat, and one derived from his eponymous collection. "It was a bit like the United Nations. Really great!" Jones said of the multi-collaboration. "The original idea came from Gosha, and so Christopher and I sort of worked it out. Christopher is a big name designer, but he was being led by Gosha, because it's Gosha's show. So it was a very interesting difference of power within the relationship. And it was all fine, because we love doing what we do." With its celebration of social stuff fashion once so eagerly tried to disassociate from, the collection wasn't far off a UN conference altogether. "It's why I was excited to join this company," Bailey explained, recalling his early days at Burberry in the 00s, "because I was very familiar with the fact that someone like that," he said, referring to the Danniella Westbrook stereotype, "or someone like the Queen, or like my Grandad, or like me as a young fashion student, would go to jumble sales and look for trench coats. It crosses different privileged backgrounds, working class backgrounds, cultures, subcultures, music, the arts, football, sports, and I love that diversity. I think it's what makes Britishness British." And now Russianness, too.
Did Bailey ever meet Danniella Westbrook, then? "I have never met. Should I?" Does he keep the famous picture of her anywhere in the archives? "No, I don't." Did Burberry actually produce an all-check pram? "Yes, we did, at the time," he smiled. Asked at the after party about Burberry's multi-faceted heritage, Stephen Jones was quick to answer. "What does Burberry represent to me? It represents the last coat in the new collection, which is going to be in my wardrobe," he vowed with a wink, referring to the two-tone trench that closed the Gosha Rubchinskiy show. "That's what it represents to me."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Gosha Rubchinskiy for Burberry