outlaw moscow is leading a liberating movement of creative russian voices
Following the premiere of their Nick Knight-supported fashion film 'Outlaw 2,' the Russian designers discuss how to define post-Soviet culture and creativity.
Photography James J Robinson
To most of the world, the realities of life in Russia remain something of a mystery. We know the basics and make assumptions based on those facts, but in such a rich and rapidly-evolving post-Soviet culture, much of these assumptions are misconceptions. Outlaw Moscow is a young, thoughtful fashion label inspired to share its members' experiences; the brand's work reveals a creatively liberated, nuanced, and progressive side of its country. After launching the street wear line a few years ago, designers Maksim Bashkaev and Dilyara Minrakhmanova made a short film called Outlaw, which featured their garments and gave a glimpse into their Russia. The pair entered it into Nick Knight's SHOWstudio Fashion Film Awards; as the winning entry, the duo was given mentorship and resources to make a follow-up film, Outlaw 2. It's a brave and beautiful extension of the first film that cements its makers as important young visionaries.
In Melbourne last week to premiere Outlaw 2, i-D Australia caught up with the designers for an exclusive photo shoot featuring their current collection. We also sat down to chat about the label's rise and their desire to unlock Russian culture through creativity.
Hey guys, welcome to Melbourne. Can you explain what it means to be an 'outlaw' in Russia?
Our concept of the 'outlaw' is not linked with the direct translation. In Russia, we started to call an 'outlaw' any person who confronts the mass culture: the aggressive and militarized approach set by the Russian government. 'Outlaw' is the one who stands up for liberty, freedom of speech, and fights for rights of various minorities in Russia. Sometimes in Russia to be who you are, to speak what you think, to dress the way you like, and to live free with self-dignity means to be an 'outlaw.'
And this idea has informed your philosophy?
Yes. Outlaw Moscow's philosophy is the will to do something within our community that stands out, something that isn't the majority. We don't want Russia to be isolated in traditional and oppressive states of mind — we want to make a liberated project for the artists around us so we can collaborate to create something different. We have made some really cool collaborations and attracted artists to do something together. This is it — our philosophy is a movement for freedom.
In this sense, do you classify Outlaw Moscow as subculture?
No. We don't consider ourselves subculture at all. Subcultures are a thing for developed countries that are not struggling for cultural validation as we are. Some already established cultures have been set in stone for decades and everything is well-organized, so to stand for something, you need to revolt. That's why the youth in these countries go with subculture to separate themselves from the majority. But, for Russia, we are fighting to establish a culture in the wake of the Soviet Union. We need to establish this first for there to be any subculture. We are more about the philosophy and values and style we are fighting for. It's not a subculture, it's a movement.
You make threads, but also films, parties, and art. Can you tell us a bit about your first film that won Nick Knight's award?
Well, we made it specifically for the contest where we knew it would be viewed internationally. So we thought: how can we show Russia from our brand's point of view? We are all about contrasts so we tried to unite all Russian contrasts, that was the creative idea and to show Russia through the stylistics of the brand. We don't try and give a direct answer, but to navigate you through style, through location — through everything. To give you a feeling of Russian life. A lot of places were also forbidden to film.
What informed Outlaw 2?
We took it to a whole new level. We wanted to make it a retrospective of Russian history because next year, 2017, will be 100 years since the great Russian revolution. This revolution destroyed the Tsar Empire and created Communist Russia, which also collapsed 26 years ago when we were born — so we are living the new Russia. For us, Outlaw 2 is about showing an international audience this history. We wanted to step beyond normal art goals to not only consider fashion, but to show our country through the creative eye. So you have a few different chapters with different people and each represents a different epoch — you have Tsar Russia, Soviet Union, post-Soviet Russia, and what we see as the cosmic future. Each of them also represents the different type of personalities you find in Russia. We tried to make it really complex in terms of ideas.
We also experimented with styles — chic, modern, and futuristic. This is how we expressed the film's fashion sense. Even the filmic operation is experimental — we have documentary, we have colored, we have bright, we have dark, which also gives you contrasting impressions. So, in the film's larger architecture we also have all of these different levels in contrast with one another.
What are your thoughts on Melbourne so far?
Melbourne is definitely one of the most creative places we have been to. Moscow vibes are different. The energy in Moscow comes from the protest and struggle. The clash of ideas and the fight for the rights and freedom inspires the creatives in Moscow, whereas in Melbourne the creativity comes from the multicultural interaction.
Where do you hope to take Outlaw Moscow?
We have some huge plans. We have a world-wide project underway but we cannot say anything yet.
And where do you think fashion and creativity generally will head in the next 10-20 years in Russia?
We see it developing positively. Which is funny because politically, Russia is deteriorating, but in culture, it is thriving. It's a paradox: when politics and economy goes down, culture booms. I've seen a lot of young people coming into the industry and changing it up. And the good thing is we don't have a structural educational system — in Russia it's very much about being self-reliant, without any education. For us, we didn't study in fashion or film school — I studied business and Di studied political science. And then we just thought, 'fuck it, let's just do what we want.' I see a lot of the same with people not restricted by the boundaries in Russia.
For our brand, we want to inspire the people who take risky paths but pursue them in the name of creativity — this is our mission. And in Russia, this is super important because the wider conservative environment is not supportive of creatives, being very oppressive and aggressive. And it's easy to kill art this way. We feel responsible to unite those people who create.
Text Alexandra Manatakis
Photography James J Robinson