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And so the men’s fashion circuit has a new stop on its tour: Kaliningrad. 32 year-old Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy decided to show in his home country for the first time in eight years, although not in his home city of Moscow. Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, separate from the Russian mainland. Before he started scouting for a venue, Rubchinskiy had never visited the city, but he said after his show that “I like the idea of a piece of Russia being in the middle of Europe.”
There were other reasons: the collection marked the beginning of a collaboration with Adidas Football, leading up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Adidas is a German brand, and Kaliningrad was previously called Königsberg. It was once the capital of East Prussia and formerly part of Germany. By holding the show here, Rubchinskiy wanted to formally mark the temporary joining of the two countries and the two brands.
It took two flights and a whole day of travel to see this show that removed fashion from its bubble. What Rubchinskiy presents is a true reflection of his contemporaries and the subconscious codes of their clothes. In the past this has meant a heavy influence of skate and streetwear. Now, Rubchinskiy is pushing into a broader wardrobe: how does a plaid blazer fit with a hoodie? What happens when a young man wears a shirt and tie? Such were the questions posed here.
The result was refreshing and convincing, with clothes designed to be worn, not just to convey an empty styling effect. The show was held in a side hall of the Mariners’ House of Culture, with just 40 seats for the audience. Most fashion shows have hundreds of guests. The models were all street cast from around Russia, and as they walked there was no music, just a recording of each model saying their name, their age, and their wishes for their life, all in Russian. “It’s interesting what they say,” said Rubchinskiy afterwards, “for me it’s a portrait of today’s youth, all these different voices. It’s a portrait of what’s happening in young people’s minds.” Which is what makes Rubchinskiy such an important designer right now, one who connects so readily with the young men who buy his clothes. It takes a deep understanding of his customer to create work of such authenticity, with tension and resolution between casual and formal.
Out came a red rollneck sweater with a graphic pattern that looked like a canvas by Kazimir Malevich. “Inspired by him,” Rubchinskiy said afterwards. Malevich is one of my absolute obsessions. “Me too.” He said the graphic of circles, lines and squares was actually meant to represent a football match. “Like a ball and players.”
Afterwards the models were getting changed on the stage of a theatre space in the next room. Pushed against the walls was the set of a play, one painted house a school building. On the rails were deeply desirable clothes: a loose fit double-breasted suit; simple short wool coats; trackpants with Rubchinskiy’s logo in reflective print. The collaboration is on Rubchinskiy’s terms, and he is controlling distribution to his own existing stockists. There are many stores worldwide who have been refused the chance to carry this brand, their number is purposefully capped to keep some sense of exclusivity and control.
Does Rubchinskiy himself like football? “I like all things that unite people,” he said. How strange it is to be a fashion writer, in this country, on this day of news. What to say? I cannot say. Rubchinskiy has always had the ambition to present his country to others and plans to do his next few shows in Russia. As he said so, his hands flashed in the air as if at different cities on an imaginary map. Is it important to him how people see Russia? “It’s more important for me to show Russia than to know how they see it,” he said. “ I am happy the next World Cup is in Russia, so that people can come to Russia and see what’s really happening, not what’s in the newspapers.”