It was strange, going to Russia to see the Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy’s fall 2017 Russian-inspired men’s wear show — especially in light of recent revelations of Russia’s involvement in the United States presidential election. But it was also strange in a fashion sense. Rubchinskiy didn’t show in the flashy, style-obsessed Moscow, nor in picturesque St. Petersburg, but in the gritty coastal city of Kaliningrad, the capital of a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania, which was captured by the Red Army in 1945. Perhaps the notion of Russian victory was on Rubchinskiy’s mind — Kaliningrad will also be home to one leg of the FIFA World Cup in 2018.
But Rubchinskiy was, in fact, thinking the opposite. “I think it’s important, in a time of strange things in politics, when some countries go to nationalist ideas and want to be isolated, I feel things like football, or music, or fashion, can unite people,” the 32-year-old designer said. It wasn’t the rampant nationalism of fervent soccer fandom he was tapping into: rather, the collective experience of the sport bringing disparate people together. Considering that Rubchinskiy’s brand is inextricably tied to ideas of Russian identity, notions of masculinity and the uniforms of youth culture, it was the perfect jumping-off point.
The collection also signaled the start of a collaboration with Adidas. According to Rubchinskiy, the sportswear giant and sponsor of the Russian soccer team came to him and said, “You’re the face of Russian fashion, and we’re the face of football.” The two came together with a series of co-branded Adidas sportswear, sometimes printed with the word “Football” in Cyrillic, mixed with everyday clothing, from suiting through knitwear and overcoats, like the off-duty attire of football fanatics.
In the past, Rubchinskiy has been inspired by crews of Soviet skateboarders and the teenage denizens of ’90s St. Petersburg nightclubs. But he hasn’t shown in Russia since 2009, when he presented his first three collections in Moscow. So, why start again with the tiny and obscure Baltic city of Kaliningrad? “A small piece of Russia in the middle of Europe,” is how Rubchinskiy described the city — which could also describe the designer’s recent shows, which have been staged in Paris and, last June, in Florence.
The Kaliningrad show is the first of a series of shows and events linked to the Rubchinskiy Adidas collaboration. “It’s not a random, fast collaboration,” the designer said. “We don’t want to collaborate for just one season.” Rubchinskiy wouldn’t be drawn out on what the other events will consist of (“I like surprises,” he said) but did concede that they will be staged in different locales across Russia.
Despite his use of Cyrillic text, the strange ’80s-tinged proportions of his sportswear-heavy looks and his casting of pallid teenage models, Rubchinskiy bristles when people describe his clothes as post-Soviet. “A portrait of today’s youth” is how he described this show, and in its staging, he was keen to dispel myths and aesthetic clichés about Russia. “That’s why I decided, let’s not invite people to Moscow. Everyone’s seen Moscow — but invite to a small city,” Rubchinskiy said, smiling. “To show what Russia is.”
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