Maybe the Post-Soviet term has been a bit reviled by its omnipresence since 2016 in the fashion world and there are those who criticise it, but it is the best way we have found the means to describe this effervescent generation of young creatives who have grown after the fall of the Soviet Union. And they are shaking up the world of fashion and art with their aesthetics and their way of seeing the world.
On December 26, 1991, the flag of the Soviet Union of the Kremlin descended for the last time. The president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, resigned giving the witness of power to the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin. The USSR was officially dissolved and Russia, along with the other Soviet republics, was abandoned to political, economic and cultural chaos.
The years that followed the collapse of communism were a tsunami of Western culture and consumerism. Having been isolated from the American cultural influence that had been setting the pace in the worlds of music, fashion, television or film and even food, suddenly they were exposed to it all at once.
Young people from Moscow, Kiev or Tiblisi first experienced hamburgers from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Nike sneakers or hip-hop as well as everything that made up pop culture at that time. Witnessing an almost extraterrestrial world compared to where their parents had lived.
This breeding ground has served as inspiration and stimulus to an entire generation that, already in a globalized world, are participants in international creative and artistic scenes. But giving first hand a new vision of Eastern Europe.
Gosha Rubchinskiy, Demna Gvasalia and Lotta Volkova all grew up in that chaos, in Moscow, Georgia and Vladivostok respectively, and only 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are three of the most influential names in fashion. And it’s not a coincidence. They are local heroes who are exposing their culture to the rest of the world.
The West has been dragged into the wave coming from the East that, like Russia itself, seems both familiar and exotic. These designers have taken to high-fashion elements that in principle seem of little aesthetic value, more typical of mass consumption. Like the faux fur, the washed jeans, the heavy logo placement garments in places of the sportswear of the 90s that we all saw in our local neighbourhoods; or even those of anodyne uniforms of companies like DHL.
This aesthetic is a faithful testimony of how young people dressed in the streets of Moscow or Kiev. This streetwear is a uniform linking global youth cultural connotations in every kind of scene, replacing music as the primary means of personal expression for youth today. The kids of the old URRS, as well as those of the West, share a taste for sneakers, trends and want to express themselves through what they wear. But Eastern economies were unstable, and when the economy collapsed years ago, Western brands were out of reach for most Soviet teenagers, who began to mix pieces of streetwear that they already had with pieces that they found in second-hand stores or dug up from their parents’ closets. Creating a spontaneous mix of styles, as is often seen in Gosha’s photography.
The general public all know what happens in New York, Paris or London, even though most haven’t been to the shows. Moscow, on the other hand, is another matter. Today you can find the same as any major city: retail chains, fast food, the subway, churches, but the menus of the hamburgers are indecipherable, monumental metro stations and churches are of a unique architecture. It is a clash between East and West, and it does not look like anything that can be found in America or Europe. And this is what happens in the creations of Post-Soviet designers, that clash of cultures is what brings such fascination.
The collections of Gosha are a celebration and drawing from his youth, and the scenes that have influenced him mixed with that intercultural rawness. His collaborations with Umbro, Kappa, FILA or adidas Football (the latter on the occasion of the World Cup to be held in Russia next summer) are a sporty journey back to the 90s, and have resulted in such a phenomenon that has given a second life to the brands. Your skate brand PACCBET (pronounced rashviet) was born as a channel to promote the local Russian skate scene of which Gosha and his friends belong.
The rave scene, on the other hand, has been a recurring reference on both the catwalks and streetwear in recent years, but the Gosha has managed to demonstrate an emotional and historical connection beyond the aesthetic. Perfectly linking the essence of English clubs like The Haçienda with the raves of post-Soviet St. Petersburg was evident in his collaboration with Burberry, investigating urban subcultures.
Burberry reduced the use of its emblematic paintings in the mid-2000s, when they became popular among the chavs, creating an association with this brand that conflicted with its traditional image. Christopher Bailey, (then) creative director of Burberry, commented upon seeing the Russian designer’s collection: “My grandfather wore Burberry, Gosha intrigues him, the Queen of England saw him too. What is it that manages to take the brand from urban subcultures to the absolutely formal and established?”
Rubchinskiy has resurrected these paintings with skill, as he did previously with his collaborations with sports brands re-interpreting nineties aesthetics, introducing Cyrillic characters and making them contemporary and stylistically relevant, having them fit perfectly into his collection. Undoubtedly, it has been this ability to convert a dichotomy into unity, to build bridges between East and West, current and recent past, streetwear and high fashion which has allowed these guys to succeed. Good news in a world that is in recent times strongly divided.