The Post-Soviet Aesthetic: Fascination or Appropriation?

The similarities between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are obvious, both in policy and personhood. They both are now world leaders and their influence, however sour it may taste, inevitably ripples throughout Russia and the U.S. Both are dissatisfactory to much of the youth culture in both nations as the leaders are particularly and purposefully oppressive of sexuality, gender, and our autonomy as human beings. Although the millennials from both nations have seemingly crossed paths in such a way that allows them to relate like they perhaps never have before, they emerge from vastly different starting points that are ultimately irreconcilable with each other. One will never be able to fully understand their counterpart on the other side of the world, regardless of aesthetic taste or similar age.

Post-Soviet youth culture has become an aesthetic subgenre of sorts that has entered the far West only to be snatched up by the image-conscious streetwear gurus of the U.S. in their fashion-oriented search for uniqueness and a certain type of cool that can only presently be achieved by dropping five hundred for a Gosha Rubchinskiy coat or 1k for a Vetements sweatshirt. And thus we have the Post-Soviet Aesthetic in Western streetwear.

Is the fascination with the emerging “Post-Soviet Aesthetic” something that millennials from both cultures may mutually engage in? Or does it remain an appropriation of uncertainty, a treacherous past collided with an unstable present? Why is the cultural identity of Post-Soviet youth culture something that can be bought at a price by the image-conscious in order to appear cool? The question remains whether its emergence in the West is a mark of achievement of Russia’s cultural influence on the U.S. or is it yet another appropriated trend engaged without an understanding of its significance within the host culture. International relations between the two have always been tense. Is this yet another example or is it instead an aesthetic matrimony of youth culture between two distant nations?

Gosha is perhaps the epitome of the Post-Soviet Aesthetic. The label itself is Russian and genuinely portrays the stylistic appearance of youth culture in the Post-Soviet era. Hypebeast describes Gosha Rubchinskiy as “the eponymous label of Russian fashion designer, Gosha Rubchinskiy. The label continually showcases daily Russian life with Rubchinskiy’s videos, and his brand ethos is a look into Russia post-communism and the burgeoning youth culture of the country.” It is no question then that the label itself loses no authenticity as a product of the very aesthetic it claims. But what is lost in translation? The problem does not reside in its creation, but in its adaptation among young and hip Westerners who are generally characterized by a lifetime of financial and political stability, an education and a ‘high-five’ or six figure paying job in a trendy office space that allows them to purchase this luxury version of Post-Soviet apparel to begin with.

It seems obvious that in order to respectfully participate in the Post-Soviet trend even remotely, one should at least have an understanding of the Post-Soviet reality beyond its aesthetic of acidic and temporally stationary coolness. The adolescent struggle for identity is amplified when backed by a rapidly changing political and social structure severed from the past generations sliced down the middle between nostalgia and progress, all the while existing within a continual state of decommunisation.

Russian photographer Egor Rogalev tells Dazed Digital that this is the concept behind his series entitled Synchronicity which naturally captures a more authentic Post-Soviet Aesthetic, enacted in the everyday reality of his photographs. The aesthetic is still present, the certain coolness apparent in the subject matter, but is it sought out or simply and momentarily present without trying as the image-conscious Westerners are so fervently? By engaging with the Post-Soviet Aesthetic while more obviously removed from its reality, we are humbled by the “exoticism” we rush to achieve.