A Millennial Friendly Russian Designer Is a Hit in Florence


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Gosha Rubchinskiy outside the Manifattura Tabacchi, a former tobacco factory in Florence, Italy, hosting his fashion show.

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Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times

FLORENCE, Italy — Like baby rabbits, so pale and unformed are the teenage models cast by the Russian street style phenomenon Gosha Rubchinskiy — whose rapid ascent to cult design status was slyly overseen by the marketing masterminds of the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo’s company, Comme des Garçons.

Response to an Instagram call for potential models for Mr. Rubchinskiy’s show at Pitti Uomo, the men’s wear trade show here, was so overwhelming that it crashed an assistant’s email account.

Selfies flooded in from around the world. They were sent by Mr. Rubchinskiy’s impassioned followers, self-styled citizens of the virtual world he has conjured up online.

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Quinn Straw, 17, from Santa Ana., Calif., one of the models in Mr. Rubchinskiy’s fashion show.

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Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times

And that is how Quinn Straw, a 17-year-old from Santa Ana, Calif., found himself loafing in a makeshift backstage area at the vast and semi-abandoned Manifattura Tabacchi — a former tobacco factory that is the least well-known, perhaps, of the Rationalist masterpieces by the Italian engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi.

“Gosha thought I had a strong look,” said Quinn, who said his parents, both nurses, sacrificed a family vacation to help pay for his trip to Florence.

Like all the underage models (and they were almost uniformly underage), he was accompanied by a chaperone. In Quinn’s case, it was his mother, Cat. The budding model added that his 76-year-old grandfather, Vincent Quinn, happily provided funds for the trip, because he is a fan of Mr. Rubchinskiy’s clothes and even bought one of his sweaters.

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Samuel Nicholas, 16, a model from Yorkshire, England.

Credit
Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times

In a sense, a Fascist-era cigarette factory, long abandoned, was an obvious place for Mr. Rubchinskiy to hold a show, given his aesthetic debt to the bleak final days of the Soviet Union.

The Moscow skate-rats and street boys who have inspired his designs ever since Mr. Rubchinskiy — a former hairdresser, stylist and costume designer who first turned his talents to producing a men’s wear line in 2008 — were well represented by boys like Anton Schmidt, a 16-year-old from Denmark, or Valtierri Niemala, another 16-year-old, from Helsinki, Finland.

With their white lashes, complexions as smooth as a linoleum floor and their scrawny chests, they embodied perfectly the age cohort that marketers of all kinds have been desperate to tap into, the generation of true digital natives, people who have never known a world without social media.

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Lauge Koch, 16, a model from Copenhagen.

Credit
Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times

Their allegiance is fundamentally to the internet ether, a no-place place where Lauge Koch, a 16-year-old from Copenhagen, for instance, can make common cause with Samuel Nicholas, a 16-year-old from Yorkshire, England.

“I don’t know anyone who’s done anything the likes of this from Bradford,” Mr. Nicholas said, referring to his hometown. “To come to Italy and model with guys from all over the world for one of the world’s biggest brands of the moment is something no one I’ve ever known has ever done.”

The success of Mr. Rubchinskiy’s designs owes much to his canny and largely intuitive apprehension of the tastes of a generation for whom the circumscribed borders that traditionally defined our world have little meaning.

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Anton Schmidt, 16, a model from Denmark.

Credit
Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times

The consumers he appeals to seem innocent of historical context. Homegrown brands like Kappa and Fila, with which he collaborated for his Pitti Uomo outing, may be cultural touchstones for millions of male Italians (and, equally, United States hip-hop fans of the 1980s) and anathema to rappers who insist on fetishizing French designer labels.

But for millennial naifs, Mr. Rubchinskiy is the ideal interpreter of culture, a designer who, like them, can see the inherent cool in budget labels and is able to detect the down-market appeal of a drawstring Fila hoodie or the old-school style celebrated by the Swedish rappers Laettis Weed or Young Bjorn Borg.

“The designs are not about Russia or Russian style,” Mr. Rubchinskiy said, sitting in cutoff shorts on bleachers outside the factory building on a gorgeously bright and unusually cool Florentine summer afternoon.

With frenetic activity all around him — lighting people, sound engineers, hair-burners, makeup artists, flacks, security guards and the photographer Juergen Teller working in high-diva mode on a top-secret editorial assignment — the cherubic Mr. Rubchinskiy seemed focused and calm.

“What we are doing is very internationally about this idea not of separation or isolation, but of collaboration,” he said. “It’s about different boys from different cultures who are more about the things that put them together than that keep them apart.”

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