Tucked on the southeastern toe of the Baltic Sea sits the Kaliningrad Oblast—a Russian exclave that doesn’t actually touch Russia Major; similar, say, to Alaska’s geographic relationship with the continental United States. To Kaliningrad’s north and east lies Lithuania; to the south, Poland. From near its namesake city, two “spits” of land span outward, flanking the dark Baltic like some kind of defensive anemone. This place was known as German (or East Prussian) Konigsberg, before July 4, 1946, when Stalin made it into the USSR (The Red Army had taken Konigsberg from Nazi Germany during WWII.) It was renamed for the Soviet president Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin, who reportedly never stepped foot in the region. It’s where philosopher Immanuel Kant is buried. It’s where the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, redeployed nuclear-capable arms last October (Kaliningrad, given its unique location and governance, has often been observed with tension by both “the West” and Moscow). And it’s where, today, Gosha Rubchinskiy showed his very strong Fall 2017 collection, which included a brand-new collaboration with Adidas.
Before the why, the how, and the what: Around noon, a select group of Russian and international editors was taken to a site called the Mariners’ House of Culture. The room therein, with faded blue velvet chairs (mine might’ve had a cigarette burn in it) and gold and white drapery, exhibited the sort of spare irreverence for which Rubchinskiy has become famous. As the show started, the soundtrack—from lost-era speakers stationed at both ends of the catwalk—discharged voice-overs in Russian. It became clear that as each model made his lap, it was he who was speaking.
“It’s a portrait of Russia now,” said Rubchinskiy of the monologues and the casting. Each mannequin hailed from somewhere in the federation, from Kaliningrad local to Siberia, thousands of miles to the east. “It’s a real way to show the country to an international audience. Some boys say, ‘I don’t know what to do in my life; I am just chilling and I have fun and I have skateboard.’ Others say, ‘I want to be an army service agent.’ Another says he wants to write a book.” Rubchinskiy’s friend and collaborator on the audio, a Moscow-based DJ named Buttechno, admitted a more ominous testimony: “One boy said he doesn’t want to die before he’s 25.”
If the models represented a cross-section of the country, that’s also a good way to describe the clothes. “We try to put some unexpected parts in, not only cool, streetwear things,” said Rubchinskiy. That was welcome. The designer played with the tailoring he introduced last season by layering it into the sportif kick he was feeling, courtesy of Adidas. The show opened with a loose-sleeved button-down shirt worn with a square-knit tie and skinny-belted trousers—it was about as polished as he has ever done. There was a smart double-breasted gray pin-striped suit, ditto a military-olive shirt and pants, offset with a pale blue cinch. The outerwear options were among the strongest he's offered, and the newsboy caps, by Stephen Jones, were fresh.
And the Adidas collaboration, with pieces emblazoned with Football in Cyrillic and which includes two new sneaker models, will satiate hype-beasts. “Adidas is very natural for Gosha,” said Rubchinskiy. “The brand is very popular in Russia; it’s a very Russian image—this man in his tracksuit.” The move is savvy; the partnership will last into 2018, when Russia hosts the World Cup. Rubles will flow.
In the end, the very best looks struck notes from both arenas—see faded quarter-zips and wide-collar polo shirts together, or an excellent denim bomber jacket with a dashing, daresay dressy, scarf tied round the neck. This was Rubchinskiy’s evolution of the streetwear riot he helped to incite—a conceit that looks familiar, but one that also reveals a broader scope and a more modern sense of wardrobe inclusiveness and cunning. It was intelligent.
Lastly, if one was wondering as to any sort of geopolitical commentary about doing a fashion show in Russia today amid the U.S.’s election-hacking accusations and President-elect Trump’s is-it-or-isn’t-it cozy relationship with Putin, the answer is . . . sort of. When pressed as to his opinion on the matter, Rubchinskiy said: “Look . . . come and see Russia. Not only on the Internet, not only in the paper. See what’s really happening in the cities . . . come and have your own opinion.” And as for his and his peer group’s feelings about Trump? “It’s interesting . . . I like the strong character. He’s a strong character—not a boring, random person. It’s interesting. Let’s see.”