It’s a quarter to five and I’m outside London’s Dover Street Market, in a queue for a Gosha Rubchinskiy book signing. In front of me are two ten-year-old boys, one wearing a Comme des Garçons x Supreme jacket. Behind is a middle-aged guy in a red sweatshirt with Timur Novikov’s sun motif from Gosha Rubchinskiy’s capsule collection and a group of Japanese girls who are fervently trying to speak Russian. I have a numbered ticket, which you get upon joining the queue to exchange for the book. I think of all the times my parents spent queuing in the Soviet Union. “Privi-yet”, a Japanese girl says behind me. Today, fashion designer and photographer Gosha Rubchinskiy might be the only catalyst to inspire people of different ages from around the world to like and relate to something Russian.
Youth Hotel is published by IDEA books, who released Rubchinskiy’s previous book Crimea / Kids (an edition of 300 that sold out in just two days). The title was inspired by an actual hotel in Moscow — Otel Molodezhniy — built to host the youth teams for the 1980s Olympics. Whenever Gosha’s friend and stylist Lotta Volkova would come to Moscow she’d always stay at this hotel — the rooms were cheap and spacious, which led to many parties and impromptu raves. The real hotel does not appear in the book, instead the title is evocative of an overall feeling. “It’s very romantic, the name, because a hotel is a place where you stay for a bit and then leave,” Gosha explains. “Youth is a transitional state. With this book I’m inviting everyone to stay in this world of youth.”
Youth Hotel’s cover features a typical image of a dormitory suburb: identical high rises against pale skies, train tracks, garages, tiny cars. Snow is melting on the sad, brown ground but the tower blocks, as always, are monumental in their uniformity. It looks like late spring in Russia — a very grey, melancholic, exhausting season. Inside, the book is filled with Russian and Soviet iconography — the Russian flag and Lenin monuments, views of the VDNKh pavilions and Soviet mosaics — included partly because they reflect some of the themes Gosha explored in his most recent collection, 1984. The essence of the book, however, is youth in the most universal sense: portraits of Gosha’s model troupe, young kids and skaters from Moscow, the emerging rave scene and friends sleeping at house parties bathed in tender morning light. Images of bashed skateboards, chipped nail varnish, Joy Division T-shirts are juxtaposed with allusions to belonging — red rowan berries against a grey wall, a small silver Orthodox cross on a boy’s chest.
Youth Hotel is not just a great photo book but also a very sincere one, providing insight into the looks and pastimes of contemporary Russian youth. The book and its sensational popularity tap into the complex duality of the global and local in contemporary identity and pop culture. In the queue at Dover Street Market I felt surrounded by underage followers of some new fashion subculture: all were wearing hip skater brands like Supreme, Polar Skates or Palace — same style, similar attitudes. Today, teenagers all over the world wear the same brands, listen to the same music, use the same apps, form subcultures which exist exclusively on Tumblr and could easily relate more to someone five thousand miles away than someone living next door. Headlines in cultural magazines — “How does it feel to grow up in post-Soviet Russia?” or “Capturing the fleeting beauty of Danish youth” — point to obvious differences in cultures. But look again, and they are all telling the same story about being young, falling in love, getting drunk and naked, going to raves.
We are still divided by social and political differences, and borders are becoming harder to cross than ever before, but for how long? Our obsession with national identity has two sides: we hold on to the idea out of fear and desire for comfort, but it is also indicative of our growing curiosity about the world. Gosha’s storytelling is perfect for this time of shifting attitudes: his ideas and visual language are global, but it still carries signs of his unique background.