Questing After The Authentic

Gosha Rubchinsky SS 2017Gosha Rubchinskiy spring/summer 2017. Photos: Gosha Rubchinskiy

By D Y Yun

I understand and I totally relate to Gosha Rubchinskiy’s work. I appreciate the severity of his designs. I am into his brand of (retro) Red aesthetic. His spring/summer 2017, shown in Pitti Uomo last week, was a big pull for me.

Detractors may say that his co-opting of old-school sports clothes is humourless and without wit. I on the other hand, consider it an overdue counterpoint to the OTT visual bent of many Italian men’s wear brands that has been feeding the staggering rise of the fashion peacock.

Mr Rubchinskiy was invited to show at Pitti Uomo as a guest designer. In the city of Florence, home of Gucci, he could have tried to outdo them all by presenting something that would have done the the legacy of the Medicis proud. Instead, he went to put on a show that was a nod “To Paolo Pier”.

Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini was a divisive figure during his lifetime. An author-turned-film-maker communist, Pasolini was especially concerned about those he called “sub-proletariat”—the socially- and economically-disadvantaged working class thought not to able to achieve anything and is a possible hindrance to an egalitarian society.

Franco Citti in AccattoneFranco Citti (right), who died in January this year, played the title character in Pasolini’s Accattone. Photo: Arco Film/Cino del Duca

In his debut 1961 film Accattone, Pasolini, together with the then relatively unknown young poet, Bernardo Bertolucci as assistant, showed the dismal lives of pimps and prostitutes, with thieves thrown in for good measure, so as to underscore the sad predicament of the individuals of the title, a slang term that refers to those who do not do well, and are afflicted by indolence and, as a consequence, cannot stay on a job.

The film does not credit a costume designer, but the gritty realism of rough, young men wanting to look good without being too concerned with the vagaries of fashion has its appeal. To me, it pairs with Mr Rubchinskiy’s fixation with a Russian visual style that came before today’s religion of consumerism. Both reflect beauty at its most earnest, just as those Olympics trainees and participants of the past that the designer loves to evoke, who wore what were given to them without self-consciousness, only ready-to-compete élan.

Calling it authentic may be banal to some of you, but I do consider the sportsmen-of-yore aesthetic of Mr Rubchinskiy—so oppositional to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo—exactly that. These look like actual sports clothes, only worn on non-sporting grounds. Not for Mr Rubchinsky, those purported athletic wear put out by hip-hop stars that have never played enough sports to know what is truly performance-enhancing.

In keeping with his preference for unsung labels, Mr Rubchinsky chose to work with Italian sports brands that have been overtaken by others whose image have presently been defined by celebrities and social media stars. His pick were Fila, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini. These are brands still with house codes that hark back to an era not swayed by “influencers”, when fashion was not a priority.

NIke Tennis ClassicNikeLab Tennis Classic CS “Nai Ke’’. Photo: Dover Street Market

Gosha Rubchinskiy’s pursuit of what I call sportif ancien connects to my own quest for athletic wear that we rarely see nowadays. It explains my attraction to, for instance, Nikelab’s “Nai Ke” (its name in Chinese) reiteration of its Tennis Classic. Released in collaboration with Dover Street Market London, the shoe has a whiff of what I seek: a touch of non-fashion as seen in the old PE uniforms worn by Chinese-medium institutions before SAP (Special Assistance Plan) schools came into being in 1978.

It’s not only the heel tab’s Chinese characters (a language choice still considered by certain quarters as “cheena” while not negating that the term is derogatory) that’s striking, but also a certain honest plainness that I find appealing. Lest I am mistaken, this is not Normcore; this is trend-resistant. Nike can make the coolest Air Jordans, but it chose to output something so Chinese Middle School of the ’60s. That means something.

In Beijing, where I had spent some time a few years back, I would go to old sporting goods stores to unearth basketball jerseys and track tops that had some semblance to what the Chinese athletes wore when China participated in the Olympics as Republic of China (1932 to 1948), not People’s Republic of China as it does now.

Shopping on Taobao may be where the retail action is, but I enjoy digging in “institutional” stores such as Tianyuan Lisheng (利生体育用品商厦) in Wangfujing, a four-story store that, in pre-market economy days, was probably considered mega. Although more than half of its stocks comprise of those by major Western brands, there are plentiful that will probably fail in the eyes of Boost addicts. Here, amid old-school, if not old-time, sports clothes, I feel I could be the basketball captain I never was. Even if briefly.


One thought on “Questing After The Authentic

  1. Pingback: So This Is It? | Style On The Dot

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