After seventeen minutes of vicious noise, bells started to ring. Models gathered around instruments, and for a minute it was unclear what would happen next. After the bells stopped, a model dressed in all white took a place on a podium where the crowd was, and all the boys started to sing:
“Когда умолкнут все песни, Которых я не знаю, В терпком воздухе крикнет, Последний мой бумажный пароход. Гудбай Америка, о, Где я не был никогда. Прощай навсегда, Возьми банджо, Сыграй мне на прощанье.”
“When all songs, which I don’t even know, will stop sounding, in the tart air my ookast paper steamer will scream once. Goodbye, America, oh, where I have never been. Goodbye forever, take the banjo, play me goodbye, etc.”
The song that echoed through Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center during Gosha Rubchinskiy’s AW18 collection, was Nautilus Pompilius’s “Gudbay, Amerika.” When it debuted in 1988, the song primarily addressed how Soviet people were finally starting to outgrow myths surrounding the American dream. The song was part of an underground secret music scene, one that the Soviet government would not stand for. As to why Gosha decided to use it now, he explains, “At the end of the show, the boys sang a song, “Gudbay, Amerika” which, in my mind, served as a goodbye to many things, especially illusions during and after Soviet, and Yeltsin’s time. Russia after Soviet could be part of the rest of the world, but still, all these years later, it is not – we are still considered as enemies, as evil.”
That said, Gosha has convincingly shown that he represents a new developmental stage in this post-Soviet culture and is mindful of all the long-lost illusions. He carries principal aspects of Russian traditions but is, at the same time, highly engaged and aware of the role of the past in shaping the present, mass media, political language, the phenomenon of hyperreality, and social actions. This year also marks ten years since Rubchinskiy debuted with his first collection called “Evil Empire.” Rubchinskiy has always been diligent in collecting facts and impartial whilst stating them. “Evil Empire” was a reference to the 1983 speech in which U.S. President Ronald Reagan famously called the Soviet Union “an evil empire.” When Rubchinskiy’s Evil Empire came out, there was a conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, and everyone started to call Russia an Evil Empire, again. Acknowledging how much the past and the present are dependent on each other, and paying close attention to some aspects of history, Gosha brought the two together aiming in creating a society that will be more equitable in the future. With all that in mind and such immense oeuvre spanning over ten years, it would be simplistic to say Gosha is just a fashion designer.
With his AW18 show, in particular, Gosha created a uniform for our new “today.” The impact sports had on the national psyche of Russians is hard to overlook, and Gosha’s uniforms symbolize a sense of brotherhood, identification, and belonging. After starting as sportswear, Rubchinskiy’s multi-season deal with Adidas Football has taken his uniforms from symbolic to highly functional. In fact, Rubchinskiy’s next project is not a runway, but rather a photo book that will be published in conjunction with FIFA World Cup 2018. The book will, of course, represent the trajectory of football in Russia, youth, and architectural landmarks; all connected to the topic. This, to Gosha, is not just another football project, saying, “This book is highly important to me because I see it as one more way to speak about Russia. As I said, if I have a voice, I need to use it and show people around the world what is really going on. I love my country, and I really want to showcase the beauty it offers.”
Gosha Rubchinskiy AW-18 Looks
KATJA HORVAT: Gosha, let us start with the trilogy that just ended with your AW18 show in Yekaterinburg. First, you showed in Kaliningrad, former German city back then known as Königsberg, then in St. Petersburg, and as mentioned, you ended up in Yekaterinburg. All three locations are part of 2018 FIFA world cup, and prior to the trilogy started, you signed a deal with Adidas Football. Do these locations primarily carry football connotation, or?
GOSHA RUBCHINSKIY: After Paris and after the Florence Pitti show, I started to think about doing something different. For me, it was just too boring to come back to Paris and show there again. I feel if nowadays you are doing a show, you have to say something. It’s not just about doing a stupid runway in Paris! My main aim is to bring people to different places and tell stories. After those two cities, I started to think it is time for me to go back to Russia. Right around that time, Adidas Football also came to me with a proposal of a World Cup project, so altogether was good enough of a reason for me to go back, to tell Russian history and bring people on a journey.
With an approach like that, do you ever feel that what you are doing is performance art, in a way? If we just look at your Yekaterinburg show; Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center as a location, Erik Bulatov’ artwork (saying Freedom in Cyrillic) framing the runway, museum staff being dressed in “Gosha” uniform, to you providing museum tours for visitors to learn about the collapse of USSR and Yeltsin’s rise of the power.
From the very beginning, ten years ago, every show to me posed as a performance and a platform for telling a certain story. When I am starting to work on a collection, I already think about who will wear the clothes, how will they wear it, what kind of location projects my vision, what kind of soundtrack brings out the emotions I want to highlight, etc. So all of this to me feels like a set, and I sometimes do feel like a director of an art performance, yes.
With clothes being just one aspect of the bigger picture! That said, is there any specific reason in regards to the order of your last three shows/cities: Kaliningrad – St. Petersburg – Yekaterinburg?
There is a fair amount of logic behind it. Each city, as mentioned, is a World Cup city, with Kaliningrad being most western, and also a former German city. The latter played a pivotal role in why we began there, as to me, starting my collaboration with Adidas Football, in Russia, in a former German city, meant everything.
St. Petersburg as a second location because June is the perfect time to be there (laughs), but at the same, it is the first city where football happened for Russians. A lot of British people used to live there, and they brought the sport into the country in the 19th century. The Burberry collaboration also happened there for the first time, simply due to the whole Russian/England connection.
Yekaterinburg because it is the most eastern city on the map for the WC, and also because of Yeltsin’s museum. Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center was built two years ago, and as soon as it was done, I wanted to show there. The museum is an ode to 90’s, and it makes me reminisce about my upbringing, my school years, etc
At the end of the Yekaterinburg AW18 show, boys sang a song by Nautilus Pompilius. I heard you decided to include the song the night before the show!?
True, I just felt like something was missing, a strong ending, and the song just came to me. “Gudbay, Amerika” by Nautilus Pompilius came out in the late eighties as an answer to the Soviet collapse. Later on, Russian filmmaker Alexei Balabanov also used it in his movie – Brat 2 (Brother 2), at the very end of the movie, implicating goodbye to illusions.
The song is also rather personal because, to me, America is an illusion, and with my decision to include it in the show, I, as well, said goodbye to many things.
Gosha Rubchinskiy AW-18 Backstage and Show
The whole soundtrack, though! Music made me want to rage, it dictated my heartbeat tempo, it made me anxious but not depressed, just aggressive.
Work well done, because my whole idea was to make people feel uncomfortable. I wanted to avoid projecting fear, so I went more after feeling strange, trapped, anxious, etc.
I wanted boys stomping throughout all the rooms of the museum adding to the experience of uncomfort. But techno always makes my music, so he created a beat, and after we got that, we started rehearsals with musicians. Nothing played out as I wanted, so I simply used boys who were walking the show. I felt like them participating and creating the music as the show went on, made the whole situation even more aggravated, and that significantly contributed to my aim of making people feel weird.
Why did you want to evoke those kinds of emotions? Are the emotions trajectory of your upbringing or they emphasize how you feel now?
More about the moment now, however not necessarily how I feel about Russia, but how I feel in general.
Kazimir Malevich, whose artworks you often use in your work, once said, “I tell you, you will not see the new beauty and the truth, until you make up your mind to spit.” Did you make up your mind? Did you find the new beauty in Russia?
I think so! It is interesting to find new ways for art and fashion, especially in crisis we are experiencing now, with everyone constantly looking for something new. Coming back to my roots felt like me making up my mind, and finding the new beauty that has deep roots in the past. Sometimes time just spirals, and things come back again and again. How I feel nowadays, I think it’s very similar to the feelings of Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, etc. If we just look at what happened after the First World War; so many people were in crisis looking for something new – new art, new ways of life, etc. I feel similar now, as we are all looking for new systems once again. How we used to live or how we live “today,” is not working anymore! Democracy is obviously not working, and it is important for me to bring attention to this feelings.
Putin projects fear! His system is menacing, and there are often consequences for many who speak out loud about stuff they were not supposed to, about things some may take for granted. Do you ever fear you are pushing too far?
It is an interesting situation we live in. It is a very dangerous, conflicted time, but right now, more so with Russia and America than inside of the country. I feel strange myself, but for my kind of projects, my shows, it is essential for me to bring people here, to unite different cultures and exchange ideas, without fear!
Let us now go a few years back and let’s talk about your upbringing. I read somewhere how big of a deal it was for you when you first got your Adidas tracksuit, and how you used to customize your sneakers to resemble the one from the brand!?
Adidas goes way back into my childhood, yes. First of all, because Adidas to me was a representation of Soviet sports (Adidas was Russian sponsor for Olympics), and because that was the first brand that came into the Soviet Union with sneakers. I remember we even used to have a Russian factory which made Adidas shoes for our market. And then, in the 90s, after everything collapsed and with all brands all of a sudden being available, Adidas was still number one, even over Nike, because it carried so much common past.
One of my Adidas pivotal moments also dates back to 1997. If I am not mistaken, that was also the year when Prodigy dropped, “The Fat of the Land” album. I remember being in summer camp, going to the discotheque, and looking at girls dancing on Prodigy. I remember them wearing Adidas sneakers, and how envious I felt of them.
When you collaborate with someone like Adidas, Burberry, Levi’s, Dr. Martens, etc. how do you translate their vision into your Soviet upbringing and aesthetics?
All these brands pose as symbols to me, and all have a strong cultural meaning. These are not randomly chosen brands, and each collaboration happened for a reason, because with all together you can build an image.
Let’s say Burberry, you can imagine it as a luxury brand, but at the same time, it has a strong history of football fans, which is what I find most important.
Yes, and if you combine all of them together, you very quickly get a football fan, a hooligan. All together kind of form a uniform.
Exactly that! That is why these brands and these collaborations in particular. For the last collection, two words/moods were predominant: hybrid and uniform. I wanted to mix everything, and throughout that create a uniform for a new generation and our new “today.”
I also collaborated with a Russian artist Erik Bulatov, so besides Freedom artwork you already mentioned and which is his older work, we also used his new artworks as prints. Works said, “Friend suddenly enemy” and “Enemy suddenly friend.” I think these two sayings sums up best what is going on now, especially between Russian and The Western world, and they add to the experience of our new today I am talking about.
One of many things that went viral after the show is also Adidas buzz stripe haircut. You once enrolled in beauty and hair school, right? Do you use that knowledge when it comes to your shows? Do you come up with hairstyles?
I was in art school, but then yes, in college, I got to learn about makeup and hair, styling, fashion history, and I do use all of that. I always want to be in control of everything I am doing, so hair for me is as important as anything else. I also strive to learn all the things I need to form my vision, and if that is hair, then I’ll learn how to do hair. For every show, I control wholesome imagery; I am a real control freak. With Yekaterinburg hair, particularly the Adidas stripe, that was something I wanted to do from the moment collaboration started, and with this show, it just felt right, it felt like it’s the right time to do it.
It is crazy how parceled you are throughout all aspects of creativity. Me and Julian Klincewicz, who is one of the people you first collaborated with and let in your circle, often talk about the high functionality of our work. We struggle if we, as (creative) people, only get 100% and we have to parcel that throughout all our ventures – like with you, music, photography, clothing, etc. – or we can actually get to the point we can offer 100% to everything we are doing, at the same time!?
For me, all my work is one project which includes all the things you just mentioned. I am putting 100% in that project using all these different media. I think that is the only way to achieve the maximum; to treat it as one, with everything being complementary to one another.
Lastly, your next project is a photo book, but what I am interested in is how much do you actually read? Your history knowledge is enviable.
I actually always read multiple books at once, mainly biographies, with one of the last ones being Eduard Limonov’s.