While the U.S. is grappling with what has been described by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper as "multifaceted influence and espionage operations,” perpetrated by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, much of the fashion press is en route to Kaliningrad – a Russian seaport town located between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea – for Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy’s Autumn/Winter 2017 show.
It was difficult not to notice the timing. As U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was in the midst of a press conference, in which he stated for the first time that he believes that Putin and the Russian government were responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email database ahead of the election, fashion industry insiders were preparing to make the trek to Kaliningrad.
The locale of the show is not surprising. Rubchinskiy, after all, was born in Moscow in the mid-1980’s and lives there today. He is part of a new(ish) wave of Eastern-born and influenced fashion figures, which includes Russian-born stylist Lotta Volkova and, and Georgian-born designer Demna Gvasalia, the creative head of both Vetements and Balenciaga, among others.
Given his background, Rubchinskiy’s work is heavily tied to his motherland. He told AnOther magazine in 2010 that “everyday life in Russia” is his most significant source of inspiration. Of the soviet-inspired imagery and symbols that make their way into his collection, he says: “I grew up in the north of Moscow. I’ve lived here all my life. I started school in 1991, so the beginning of the 1990s of course influenced me. Everyone – one way or another – has some sort of nostalgia. Our childhood memories end up being quite romantic, and so these images become incorporated into artistic work.”
With this in mind, his choice of setting – just like his choices for casting and styling, etc. – is logical. Unlike Chanel, which had little – if any real ties to Cuba when it encamped there in May 2016 for its truly lavish Resort show – Russia is deeply personal for Rubchinskiy, and thereby transcends any of the insensitivity or plain old out-of-touch, elite fashion-isms of which Chanel’s Cuba excursion reeked.
In fact, Rubchinskiy’s Fall/Winter 2017 show exemplifies one of the most beautiful powers of fashion: Its ability to unite. Regardless of what you make of the truly polarizing media coverage of U.S. relations with Russia, particularly in light of the recent Presidential election, his show’s site – and his brand, in general – is worth celebrating.
Instead of randomly looking to a far-flung place to glamorize or profit from its culture as brands have been well-known to do (often referring to the "cultural richness” of said place as a politically correct cover), Rubchinskiy has been nothing if not consistent and authentic in his work. His designs – which are undeniably putting Russia on the map as the home to budding design talent – shine a light on Russian youths, the ones that, like Gosha, came of age in Russia, “in a country undergoing huge political, economical and cultural change after dissolution of the USSR in 1991,” he says.
As HighSnobiety noted some time ago, “Alongside his collections, Gosha’s photography – as seen in his 2012 book Transfiguration, limited sets of prints or on Instagram – shines a light on a part of Russia that we rarely see in the West. Avoiding the clichés of fallen communism and vulgar luxury that taint most people’s preconceptions of the country, Gosha’s Russia is a place of thriving subcultures and unusual-yet-familiar aesthetics. The country’s youths clearly love skating and sportswear – but their look is quintessentially Russian, with socks tucked into tracksuits and shoelaces used for belts.”
And as Rubchinskiy, himself, has stated, these are the same youths as anywhere else, despite Russia’s complicated past. “This new generation does the same things as youth from around the world. They are the same guys who Hedi Slimane photographs in California. But with us, they just call it ‘Post-Soviet Youth.’ I hate tags and I hate borders.”
On Thursday, Rubchinskiy surpassed a border, so to speak. In light of the state of the media and the seemingly endless stream of propaganda, this 30-year old creative drew journalists and fashion industry insiders from all over the world to him – in Russia – as a result of his vision and his talent. This is a valuable thing for fashion and for the world, as Rubchinskiy is allowing Russia to communicate with the world culturally despite the inner workings of its political leaders and the ongoing political strife. He is bringing individuals to Russian because the work he is putting forth is worth seeing. He is making Russian culture accessible to the world in a positive way.
Celebrating the arts coming out of Russia, independent of government and state message, and using fashion to bypass politics seems to be part of Rubchinskiy’s goal. Speaking to 032c magazine last year, he said: “All the fights in the press where people are divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’ are just bullshit. But on the other hand, there is a great international unity of young people. I think young people don’t give a shit about politics. They don’t listen. They don’t believe in it … I’m sick of politicians’ faces. Nobody knows what they fight about. But I feel a great energy that comes from youth all over the world. Old people can keep making wars for money, but we’ll grow up and change the world. I hope.”