In an old club in St. Petersburg, Gosha Rubchinskiy debuted his spring/summer 2018 collection. The show took place just before midnight last week during the city’s famed White Nights. Watching the show was Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey and for good reason. Rubchinskiy teamed up with Burberry to create an homage to the British who brought soccer (football) to Russia in the late 1800s.
Indeed, Rubchinskiy’s latest collection is all about soccer. Well, soccer and rave culture. This collection followed on from Rubchinskiy’s autumn/winter 2017 collection, with both featuring a collaboration with Adidas. The two will team up again for autumn/winter 2018, as the partnership leads up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup which is to be held in Russia next June and July. The collection paid homage to British “football lads” and Russia’s nightlife. Indeed, Rubchinskiy held the show in the club where Russia’s first rave was held in 1989.
The show featured full Adidas soccer kits, along with soccer shorts paired with oversized sweaters. Tracksuits and tie-dyed work jackets, double-belted pants and what looked like boxers with an oversized t-shirt all made their way down the runway.
Then there were the pieces with Burberry. Two looks featured head-to-toe Burberry check, both featuring shorts, and a matching shirt. Of course, there were trench coats – you can’t have a collaboration with Burberry without a trench coat, right? Paired with khaki pants and a polo, it looked much more conventional than some of the other designs.
Altogether, the collection brings to mind the “football lads” of England in the late nineties and early ‘00s. Think David Beckham in his early career. The mix of soccer gear into everyday-wear is a direct reference to British “lad” culture of 20 years ago. To Rubchinskiy, Burberry was an obvious direction. He told Financial Times of teaming up with the brand,
“It’s because of St Petersburg. It was the first city in Russia to have football, in the 19th century. It was introduced by English people, so I thought let’s do something with an English brand. I though, which brand is most iconic. It’s Burberry. It suits many things in the collection, like underground electronic music, like football, England, Russia, club culture.”
To mix Adidas-branded soccer looks with the quintessential British brand just made sense to Rubchinskiy.
But does it make sense for Burberry? In the mid-2000s, the brand attempted to distance itself from British “lads,” and more specifically, “chavs.” Soccer fans, who became known for their increased “hooliganism” (violent behavior at sporting events), adopted the Burberry check. The motif became so associated with “chavs” (a derogatory term used to refer to young, white working class people in Britain) that pubs banned anyone wearing the signature plaid. Before this, Burberry was synonymous with the British elite, so the brand worked hard to move their image away from this culture. Not only was it tarnishing their reputation, but sales were plummeting.
Burberry did manage to turn that image around. They buried the check so that it only appeared on 5% of products by 2004 (before that, it appeared on one-fifth of all products). Christopher Bailey stepped in as creative director and Burberry returned to being a go-to for the rich and famous. To his credit, Bailey recognized this period of Burberry’s history. He told i-D,
“You know, I have never been snotty about it, because I feel that’s a very important part of our history.”
However, Burberry’s sales have been declining for the past few years. Some critics have wondered if they aren’t using the very culture they tried to distance themselves from fifteen years ago to increase profits.
Whether or not they are, Rubchinskiy’s designs distinguish themselves from typical “chav” style in one way: they are distinctly high fashion. The last look of the collection featured a two-tone trench coat. Half khaki, half navy, the Burberry check peeked out from the lining. Worn over a green polo tucked into “trackies” (tracksuit bottoms), the look had all the elements of an early ‘00s football lad. But a chav this was not. No, instead it’s a Rubchinskiy-clad high-fashion model in an old St Petersburg nightclub. Fashion, indeed, comes full circle.