Let’s face it, Gosha Rubchinskiy has had a huge impact on fashion. It’s not just those hyped FILA and Kappa tops — he has shown the world how national background can be transformed into the code for a new global aesthetic. He mixed influences of Soviet culture with memories of growing up in the transitional Russian ’90s, and captured the raw energy of his Moscow skate gang on the background of desolate tower block cityscapes. In the world on the brink of austerity and political crisis, this authentic-yet-rough image really hit a nerve.
When Rubchinskiy made his Paris runway debut in 2014, streetwear was well on the path to becoming mainstream, and today Gosha comfortably sits among the genre’s biggest names. Backed by COMME des GARCONS, Rubchinskiy’s brand is going strong, with the recent addition of a perfume and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Reebok, adidas, Kappa and FILA. However, the novelty is starting to wear off; these days Cyrillic letters often pop up on mass market-produced jumpers (we see you, Topman and Urban Outfitters), and for some, trend fatigue is on the horizon.
Luckily, Gosha is not alone in his quest for finding a new look and narrative for the former USSR. International attention has galvanized local fashion scenes in many of the former Soviet countries, with dozens of emerging designers striving to tell their own stories.
The rise of the post-Soviet aesthetic has never been about the history of the real places but about the ultimate dream of the “poor but sexy” East. That means the trend also includes not just the former USSR, but also countries which were in the Soviet sphere of influence — like Poland and Yugoslavia.
So, what is the future for the post-Soviet movement?
Ukraine’s New Wave
Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, has been on the radar recently for its underground rave scene, young inhabitants’ immaculate style, and new wave of creative talent. Designer Anton Belinsky is the ringleader of movement: he was nominated for LVMH prize in 2015, showed his FW17 collection at Paris Fashion Week, and is set to produce a special project for Ukrainian Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale.
At the centre of Belinskiy’s creative universe are his Ukrainian peers, their quest for freedom and independence, and the heritage of Ukraine’s material culture: perfect tracksuits, rough fur coats, sturdy leather and sweaters with patterns of the fluctuating dollar exchange rate. Most of the Ukrainian designers working today avoid Soviet symbols, which for them go with the traumatic history of cultural oppression (with the exception of socialist utopia of Yulia Yefimtchuk), and instead look into the future.
Reinventing Balkan Style
One of the key reasons for the success of post-Soviet aesthetic was the fact that it looked rough and edgy to Western eyes. While the former Yugoslavian countries weren’t technically part of the Soviet Union, they still have a rough-and-ready, East-meets-West Slavic culture clash to them.
Based in Austria, Bosnian designer IIija Milicic of Hvala Ilija turns the stereotype of tracksuit-clad mobsters on its head. Shiny tailored suits, unbuttoned shirts, jackets inspired by cigarette packs — Milicic’s work turns machismo into ambiguous sensuality, with a dose of Gucci-style flamboyance and a sense of irony which would make Demna Gvasalia jealous. Milicic is inspired by the Balkan community after he fled Bosnia with his family, which, in the age when immigration becomes more and more stigmatized, makes his work even more relevant.
The work of this year’s Russian LVMH prize nominee, Jahnkoy’s Maria Kazakova, would hardly fit your expectations of a distinctly Russian look. Kazakova has a truly global vision: her collection “The Displaced,” created in collaboration with PUMA, tackled the environmental crisis of overproduction through bold, Afro-centric sportswear. Kazakova’s vision is influenced by the melting pot of New York, but also by growing up in Siberia among diverse cultures.
Her message is simple: Russia is not as ethnically homogenous as it seems, and the new generation of post-Soviet designers are looking to create work that belongs in the world, not just their own culture.
The Rise of the Tbilisi Scene
With Vetements and Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia rising to the ranks of fashion royalty, the fashion scene in his native Georgia has been enjoying some time in the international limelight. For emerging Georgian designers, it’s not just about individual success but also shaping the new contemporary identity for their country, a place that’s still relatively unknown in the West.
SITUATIONISTS is in the forefront with its unisex tailoring, rough sex appeal and striking leather pieces favored by Bella Hadid. Leather in Georgia is somewhat a national trademark: Tamuna Ingorokva‘s carefully constructed, tactile garments are another highlight. However, not all the Georgian designers go for the dark look: George Keburia has a broad range of references, from ’70s Japanese school girl uniforms to anti-homophobic, rainbow-colored work.
Russia’s New Generation
The post-Soviet aesthetic has become an easy way to attract attention in recent years, but a lot of emerging Russian labels consciously shun this approach. The country’s youth, especially in big cities, is becoming more and more globally-minded, free from influences of the past, and keen to stand for what they believe in.
Moscow-based Outlaw is inspired by hip-hop and grime scenes (Skepta and A$AP Nast both own some pieces) and is never shy of the progressive political stance on diversity and freedom. London-based label ZDDZ, run by Russian designer Dasha Selyanova, addresses contemporary anxieties of youth — such as the boredom of corporate jobs and the challenges of always being connected to the internet.
Central Saint Martins graduate Tigran Avetisyan easily switches between rough and voluminous men’s and womenswear into deconstructed ’00s glam. Vojéttes, the latest project by Russki Attrackion creative collective, repurposes kitschy ‘70s ballet imagery and sustains an overall air of mystery.
Although Poland was never part of the Soviet Union, the strong influence of communism means that even today the country has an enduringly rough urban appeal — similar perhaps to East Berlin in the times of the Cold War. Instead of treating this stereotype as something negative, designers from the Warsaw scene work it in their favor and use it as a vehicle to create something fresh and new.
MISBHV has summed up the duality of perspectives perfectly with its FW17 collection: “a complex dialogue between the harsh, cold surroundings of The East and the ultimate fantasy of The West.” The brand’s staples include perfect bomber jackets and reworked motocross leather pieces, and numerous bootleg-style garments with logos and pop cultural paraphernalia.
UEG, in the spotlight after a collaboration with PUMA, offers an even more bold and gritty take on Warsaw youth: buzzcuts and trackies represent Poland Europe in a fresh, poetic and irresistibly cool manner. Their most recent collection is scattered with stars from the EU logo – a take on “the end of Europe the way we know it”, a topic incredibly poignant for the new generation in Poland.
The post-Soviet trend has proven that young designers want to explore politically challenging territories. But today it so happens that almost any place in the world is politically challenging. There are numerous scenes of turmoil out there, and not even far away: New York’s underground brands like Eckhaus Latta and Barragan are in the midst of Trump’s America, or maybe post-Brexit UK where designers like A-Cold-Wall, Grace Wales Bonner and Samuel Gui Yang are challenging preconceptions of class and nationality altogether.
We live in the transitional period when national cultures are gradually dissolving — so perhaps soon the only place for them will be as part of the fashion landscape.
Now take your most detailed look yet at Gosha Rubchinskiy’s rave-ready SS18 collection.
- Writer: Anastasiia Fedorova