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  • Isaac L. Davis

Enter the Style Zeitgeist: An Interview with Eugene Rabkin

To succeed in the world of fashion, one must have connections and relationships with their communities and peers. Whether through family, fame, or fortune, connections matter, and those without them are often left on the wayside. In many ways, this is what makes Eugene Rabkin’s writing stand out from the rest of the pack. Coming from a background without connections made through family, fame, or fortune, Rabkin pulls no punches in his critiques, and takes no prisoners either. As is the case with many outsiders that pry their way into the world of fashion, Rabkin’s story is one of both happenstance and a drive to offer something new to the elitist world of fashion criticism.

Born in the USSR, Rabkin emigrated to New York City at the age of 15 to “pursue the American dream”. Within his young mind, this entailed working on Wall Street, something not typically associated with the world of fashion, nor the role of opinion writer. What would eventually put Rabkin onto the path he followed would be something quite ubiquitous for the 1990’s: a music video. As Rabkin recollected being interviewed by Rick Owens, his interest in fashion began to pique around 1994 when clothes and the feelings they reflect clicked into place. As he said to Owens, “you know when the light bulb went off for me about what clothing can do? It’s when I saw (the) March of the Pigs video by Nine Inch Nails in ’94”. This realization of how clothes can be another way of expressing what you feel within to the outside world was a game changer.

Eugene's Nine Inch Nails hair cut circa 1994

Rabkin’s new found understanding, when combined by a visit to Barneys in 1998, further pushed him towards his final stepping stone into the industry of fashion. Rather dissatisfied with the typical American Dream and Wall Street, Rabkin’s exit from that elite world and into fashion criticism and writing as a profession would be the catalyst for his new creation: avant-garde menswear forum, StyleZeitgeist, and its companion magazine. StyleZeitgeist, both as a forum and as a magazine, were rather unique in 2006 when they were founded. No other forums or large scale online spaces were being dedicated to serious discussions about avant-garde clothing, and in particular avant-garde menswear. From this, Rabkin was put onto the path that would land him in the pages of Business of Fashion, Vogue Russia, Highsnobiety, and other mainstream publications. Since beginning his career, Rabkin has played a variety of roles, from critiquing the rank profit motives of fashion conglomerates to interviews with designers such as Haider Ackerman and Rick Owens. The writer has kept himself occupied but thankfully, Rabkin worked in enough time to answer some questions with ARCHIVE.pdf. We discussed his life, his journey, and his thoughts on the world of fashion.

Eugene at the SZ Popup during Atelier 2016


From the first designer that struck your soul to your first published work, we would love to learn of your journey into the fashion industry.

I immigrated to the US with my parent when I was fifteen. We came from a Eastern European country where nothing ever grows - Belarus - to a Brooklyn neighborhood where nothing ever grows, aptly called Gravesend. The "grave" in Gravesend stood for culture, of which there was none, and "send" for sending people towards it. This was immigrant / working-class Brooklyn of the early '90s, a place where gentrification still has not penetrated and probably never will, a dead end. My high school, FDR, at one point had a roughly 70% dropout rate and kids got robbed outside of it for their Starter jackets. Out of the twenty or so kids I hung out with on handball courts only two went on to college.

In such a milieu music and books were my salvation, but I'll concentrate on music here. While most kids listened to gangsta rap, few were into metal, industrial, and alternative. I brought my love for synth pop, and Depeche Mode in particular, with me from Belarus (Eastern Europeans are fanatical about DM - no one exactly knows why). One day a friend put on The Downward Spiral, a record by Nine Inch Nails, and my world fell apart in the best possible sense of the word. From Nine Inch Nails I worked my way back to industrial, goth, and post-punk - Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, and so on. There was a rage and darkness in the music that perfectly corresponded with my teenage angst. Like most teenagers I began to dress like my music idols - black leather, jeans, combat boots, and band tees were my uniform.

At the same time - like many members of disadvantaged groups - I felt the pull of aspirational consumption. Designer clothes were huge in the Russian-speaking Jewish community - we could not wait to signal fast enough that we are set on climbing out of poverty. For me it manifested in techno club culture in particular - I did quite a bit of clubbing at Limelight and Tunnel in the '90s, and that's where I wore my reflective DKNY, D&G, Moschino, and Iceberg. Eventually the goth side of me won out though.