Any conversation about Russia and its youth culture these days is bound to include Gosha Rubchinskiy. It’s inevitable. He’s considered one of the most exciting streetwear designers of the day – with collections in haute stores such as Dover Street Market and Tres Bien – as well as an influential photographer. His work is without a doubt a reason why the fashion world is looking East for fresh ideas. His approach consists of an authentic mix of real life situations unfolding around him, captured in a Soviet aesthetic and told in a Russian accent. Skateboarding always plays a major part in Gosha’s imagery and its focus on showing teenagers on the streets in their natural environment. Most of the teenagers don’t even know about their power and their style, which is what inspires Gosha and makes the results appear so real. It’s just normal life, caught with an open mind.
We’ve had the pleasure to meet Gosha in his own Moscow neighborhood, in between bar hopping and walking around from one club to another. To no surprise, he turned out to be a friendly guy who likes to share his story. And it was also impressive to find out that he is taking care of his friends a lot and that he has such a strong belief in a romantic idea of community.
Interview by Benni Markstein
How did you get started with photography? What is your background?
Initially, I started photography in my school years just for fun. I just shot my friends with basic film cameras. It was nothing special. During college, I took some photography lessons and learned how to use mirror film cameras. I studied fashion, styling, hair dressing and some make-up. I always had a need to document my work, so I had to learn more about photography because I had to present it. I learned that it is always better to have a complete project. When I started my fashion project, I started to use my photography for it, since I knew how to develop film. But anyway, I was already taking pictures of my friends my entire life, for example while going out or skating.
Your new book Youth Hotel just launched. Please tell us something about making that book.
There is a hotel in Moscow from the ‘80s that was built for the Olympic Games for the youth and young sportsmen. It’s a strange building with 28 floors in a real Soviet mood and feel. One day a friend of mine, who is a stylist, came to Moscow and she wanted to stay in a strange hotel. So we chose this one as I also wanted to take a look inside and see what’s going on there. It was very interesting, so we rented a room, spent some time there, invited some friends and had some parties there. It’s very empty, so we had the entire floor for us, played some music, danced and also we could smoke. During these parties I shot some pictures there. My friends of IDEA Books, who also made my last book Crimea / Kids, asked me to do something new and asked if I had something for them. I said yes and told them that I have some great outtakes from my Youth Hotel series that we could use. I mixed these pictures with last year’s cool pictures that I never used. I think the name Youth Hotel is very romantic. Youth is such a short period of time in your life that you spend shortly.
You mentioned that you had unused photographs you were able to use. Do you feel that different outlets are also important to realize different ideas in your work?
Photography for me is like a diary. It’s about documenting. I see something and when I think it’s interesting I shoot some faces or some outfits or some boys wearing something in a good way. Afterwards, I can use it for inspiration in my new collections. It’s always interesting to document some energy, or some moods, and to look back for some inspiration.
Please describe the overall image and aesthetic you are aiming to create.
I see something interesting here in Moscow, in Russia. My friends are doing interesting things that I always wanted to show to other Russian people, and also internationally. It doesn’t matter if it’s through photography, or films, or fashion – those are just different ways to show it. For me, it is always about showing things that are happening in Moscow and what is interesting and what is our mood.
The Moscow mood?
Moscow, or Russian, or my Gosha mood – I don’t know! It’s all about the same things told through different outlets. But what is it? I don’t know, it’s my vision; it’s different things that I think are great. If I think this guy is great, or this building, or this landscape is great, I want to show it to people.
And if people don’t like it?
Anyway, I like reactions. It’s a good thing when people react because it’s bad when people don’t care about you. I like bad reactions like: “What the hell is he doing?!” I like that.
What’s your background in skateboarding? Do you still skate?
I’m not, like, a big skater. I started when I was 22 years old. During my school years I never had friends that skated and I was really focused on art, sitting at home and drawing. Later I met some people that skated, not too crazy just in a basic way. Sometimes I go skating but I’m very busy right now and you only have a few months during the year to skate in Moscow. I’m not professional enough to go to indoor skate parks in the wintertime. Also, every year it’s a challenge to kind of start skating again and again. It’s always like stepping on your board for the first time. Anyway, I try to remember how it works.
For me it’s a about the romantic of being a teenager having time to go skate in the streets to escape problems.
Some people still live this life, people who used to do it since they were teenagers. I like to go skate on sunny days in summer and to watch others doing good tricks, to cruise around and take some pictures.
I guess you have many friends that skate, then?
Yeah yeah, it’s a big community with friends, and their friends! When I met these guys for the first time around eight years ago, I thought wow, this is really cool and it is something so true and strong. These guys are really interesting people, the most interesting guys in Russia are from the skate community. Because it mixes guys from different areas: some football fans, some musicians, some Hip Hop dancers, and graffiti guys – they all skate together. Skateboarding is the connection. If you want to meet cool dudes it’s easy to find them in the skate community. For me, it was like fresh air when I met skateboarders for the first time and every year new and cool people become part of the community.
Do you see similarities between skating and fashion? And do you get inspired from skating?
Yes, of course. Normal life always inspires me. I can be inspired by some cool 15 year old guy coming to the spot for the first time because he has some weird style and I will use it for my collection. It works this way for me; one guy can inspire the whole collection. I met Kevin Rodrigues in Paris who has a very cool style – he is really inspiring. Everybody around him is now wearing the same style as him and this is how it works.
How did that connection with Kevin happen and is he your new muse?
First of all, I’m checking what’s going on in the skate world and of course I saw him many times in videos and I liked his style. The first time I met him was in London through a Converse presentation. And when I saw him in real life I thought he was an interesting guy, and that I would like to know him more. Six month later we met again in Paris at Place de la République because we have some friends in common. So we started hanging out, drinking beer, and he was like “Oh, you’re from Russia! That’s cool, we love Russian people.” So we became friends from the first day. It’ the same with Ben Kadow from the US, how they look and how they skate is something I really like.
Crimea / Kids (2014)
What do you think is are the differences between the Moscow scene compared to other cities?
I think the main difference is the places to skate because of the weather and the winter. In Moscow, people have to do all the things they like to do during the summer period because in the wintertime everybody starts to become lazy. I think that’s the main difference between Russia and other countries. But besides that, I think in terms of the community, friendships, and skateboarding – everywhere is the same around the world. That’s because it’s so easy if you go to Paris, or to China, and meet some people at the spot, it’s the same connection.
Many people pay attention to my work and that’s why I need to use it to show the good things about Russia.
At one time you said that you would like to change people’s perception of Russia through your work. Is that true?
Yeah, it’s one of my ideas that I want to show Russia the way I see it. I think I have my own vision and I want to show it because it’s hard to imagine how it is if you don’t live here. I have power and the ways to show it – so that’s why I need to use it. Many people pay attention to my work and that’s why I need to use it to show the good things about Russia. Now we’re living in a time of information war, and especially many bad things about Russia and I would like to say: No, it’s not really like that. I can show you what’s happening. Well, and what I think is the beauty of being a Russian.
Why is there some much attention on Russia at the moment? What is attracting the people?
It was a closed country for many years and no one knew what was secretly happening inside. It was just a big myth surrounding what it is – and it still is. The country is big and of course you can be in Moscow or St. Petersburg, which is easy. But that is not the real Russia. You have to go to other cities to understand the Russian mentality better. Like you told me the story of this security guard Dima in Sochi and what his soul is like. I think you’ll understand more now. These are things I also like to show about Russia, because I think it’s good here. It’s not only clichés.
So what do you have coming up for the future and new projects?
I have an idea for a short movie so I try to find free time for it. First of all, I need to sit down, write the script and then start filming. This will be my next project.
So, will there be skateboarders involved?
Of course, ha-ha!
All photos by Gosha Rubchinskiy