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Opinion: Gosha Rubchinskiy’s new perfume is a sign of the times for underground culture

Opinion: Gosha Rubchinskiy's new perfume is a sign of the times for underground culture

Skate-inspired designer Gosha Rubchinskiy has gone from little-known outsider to darling of the fashion world in just a couple of years. But is his new perfume a step too far?

27 October 2016

“Skateboarding on a summer day. Wheels burning on the hot concrete sidewalk.The smells of rubber and tar colliding to create a scent of youth and freedom.” The opening of a coming of age movie? Your friend’s elegy to last summer after a glass of wine? Nope, that’s the concept of Gosha Rubchinskiy’s first perfume which launched earlier this month in London and Paris.

In the world of fashion today it’s perfectly normal for men and women in their 30s and 40s to want to look like skaters and proudly wear the latest Palace and Supreme stuff. But to smell like skaters? I know what you’re thinking: skater perfume sounds like a straight up commodification of youth and what used to be outsider culture. Perfumes are how large brands make money — Russian designer Tigran Avetisyan has had his own say about that. But has Gosha’s outsider vision reached such a peak that the commercialisation of his stardom is now inevitable? Perhaps that’s just the cultural framework that we all exist within today: when nothing underground is truly underground anymore.

Skateboarding has changed considerably in recent years: it’s no longer about the brash, loud teens depicted by Larry Clark in his 1995’s cult feature Kids. Sweat, bruises and dirty flannel shirts are still there — but fashion and our understanding of youth has shifted, creating a brand new skater myth. In the pictures from Rubchinskiy’s Perfume Book we see a young man with a buzzcut sporting a double-breasted pinstripe suit and a golden necklace over a naked chest. The image is crisp and seductive, like a high-budget perfume ad you’d see on a billboard — but it’s also rough and subversive. The rugged coastline of white cliffs, deep blue water, the boy lighting a cigarette after a swim — the appeal knows no age limits, just like skate clothing today. We might be weighed down by adult responsibilities but we don’t want adult looks: it’s about freedom and effortless style, and about that endless youthful summer of love.

Last summer Gosha Rubchinskiy expanded his vision like never before, launching his new skater brand РАССВЕТ with friend and collaborator Tolia Titaev. Rubchinskiy’s perfume is just another new medium alongside his books, films and clothes, and his backing company Comme des Garçons clearly has high expectations. According to Business of Fashion, the first run is 18,000 units, and the estimate sale is 50,000.

It’s hardly a coincidence that Gosha Rubchinskiy’s perfume came only a week after perhaps one of the most discussed streetwear drops — a $30 clay brick from NY-based skater brand Supreme. A brick with Supreme logo triggered multiple reactions — confusion, laughter, memes — yet it sold out almost immediately. The reseller’s price on ebay is now up to $1000. We live in an era when streetwear and skater brands have a cult following, and Rubchinskiy knows that. “Brands like Supreme and Gosha have replaced musicians,” he said in an interview to Business of Fashion. “Before, teenagers had a favourite band and they waited to be the first to get new singles. Now, you do not need to go to stores to buy records. But I think people still want to have objects. They buy t-shirts not as clothes, but as fan pieces or something collectable.” Collectable things don’t have to have a meaning — they are just tokens. Unlike the brick, the perfume created by Comme des Garçons — with its rubber and tar mixed with mandarin seed and blue camomile — is at least nice and relatively useful.

The underground idea of a skater gang has always been at the core of Gosha Rubchinskiy’s brand. But there was something else that was edgy and new and alien about Rubchinskiy — he was Russian. In the two years since his first show at Paris fashion week, being Russian doesn’t seem so strange and new anymore — now it’s cool. “Post-Soviet youth” has become an international media catchphrase, and admiration of Russian style has gone as far as the Bosco tracksuits worn by the Russian Olympic team — the design of which was probably influenced by Rubchinskiy. Does this mean that Russia’s edgy otherness has worn out and the alternative appeal of his brand is gone? I doubt it. With Russia’s super-villain role on the international political scene stronger than ever, and Cold War rhetoric in the media, being Russian still unfortunately means being on the wrong side. And with the rise of far-right movements across Europe, being young and eastern European is still far from easy. Gosha Rubchinskiy’s work might not be for everyone’s liking, but he’s a very important voice on the international scene, someone who represents us.

In one of the interviews I did with Rubchinskiy he dropped a hint at the end that he wanted to replace Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. You’ve probably heard Lagerfeld’s comments about Kim Kardashian’s recent robbery. “We make all the efforts to make Paris appealing then suddenly…apparently they were people from the east, from eastern Europe”, he said. “They are the worst”. While Lagerfeld’s busy worrying that eastern Europeans are going to steal his wallet, in fact they’re right here, stealing the future.

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