Back when I was working for Backside, I was an editor for their print magazine called EightxTen. It launched in 2012 with a full feature I did on Rick Klotz (Freshjive, Warriors of Radness). I was tasked with writing about influencers in the lifestyle markets, and all in Q&A format. For the second issue, I had Ruslan Karablin (SSUR), who at the time was fresh off his first solo art exhibit called “The Evil that Men Do”.
But unfortunately, that second issue never made it to print.
Fast forward to last night, when I was going through content on the internet and on my social feed. I saw that SSUR Los Angeles had officially opened its doors. I thought cool; it’s about time. Then I thought a little more, dug into my archives, and found that Q&A I did a couple years ago. I read through it and something Russ said brought me to my editing page on Fatlace. It was, “DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CREATIVE DESIRES UNEXPLORED”. So here I am, appropriately on #FlashbackFriday, with that unpublished interview:
It’s said that you don’t know streetwear if you don’t know Ruslan Karablin. His contributions to the industry span two decades under names like SSUR, Rebel Ape, Caviar Cartel, and Comme Des Fuckdown. He began at 19 in New York, by putting his own artwork onto limited edition t-shirts. Cut and sew pieces came next, high profile collaboration projects not long after, and the creation of sub-brands somewhere in between. All make for SSUR’s artist-driven ethos and profound branding. In this interview, he talks his 20 year career, how he has stayed relevant, his move to Los Angeles, his art, Comme Des Fuckdown, and his inspirations.
TRICIA: You began your clothing brand SSUR as a way to get your art out to the masses. How did you get the word out? How long did it take for you to realize, “Oh shit, this is actually working.”?
RUSLAN KARABLIN: First 2 years were critical and happened fast. The tough part is maintaining momentum and weathering the storms.
T: SSUR has been in the game for two decades. How have you changed in those 20 years and how did streetwear change during that time span?
RK: My beard got some white hair. Streetwear got dumbed down and a bit cheapened in meaning and quality.
T: Besides your resume saying that you’re one of the first people to translate artwork onto t-shirts and later cut and sew, how has SSUR stayed relevant all those years?
RK: Beating the fucking pavement and staying in your face.
T: You’ve collaborated with everyone from Swatch to Medicom, from The Hundreds to Kangol. What has been your favorite collaboration and why? Anyone on your wish list?
RK: They all hold a special place in my heart. Martin Scorcese, Persol, Cadillac, Levi’s, Karl Lagerfeld, COMME des GARCONS
T: Given your reputation in New York City, why did you move to Los Angeles? Is LA as welcoming, as romantic, as inspirational?
RK: LA has always been welcoming and romantic to me and many other’s. Hollywood glamour and darkness non the less inspiring. I’ve been reppin’ Westside for at least a dub. Now I’ve just expanded my family from coast to coast. I moved here for a little change of pace and at the request of my family.
T: Your studio in New York is filled with things you have collected over the years. A lot of those items are reflective of the city (i.e. the Jumbo-Jet sign from Coney Island). Is there anything “LA” that you’d like to own?
RK: Steven Spielberg’s house.
T: SSUR is influenced by sex, politics, and protest. Are you creating product for awareness or to express your own views? Is fashion still a successful medium to get your point across?
RK: Fashion will always be a great medium. Common language with the youth is key. Awareness plays a key role in my design process.
T: Please explain the different collections that have existed within the SSUR brand: Rebel Ape, Caviar Cartel, Comme Des Fuckdown, etc. How are they different? Why do you design under different divisions as oppose to having everything under one name?
RK: Sex, politics, protest and decadence.
T: The Comme Des Fuckdown design had a good response when you released it ten years ago. Why did you put it on ice, and then decide to release it again? How do you explain its success at two different times of streetwear?
RK: Comme derived from a co-brand I did with Jamie Story called TheCut. I’m unsure why I put it on ice or why I brought it back except for some echoes from peers. Timing is always a key factor in the outcome of events.
T: You are kind of going back to how things started for you by concentrating more on art. Why the shift in focus? What does that mean for SSUR as a clothing brand?
RK: Art has always been first. The brand is a means of getting there. The two co-exist and work from one another.
T: How was your experience and how was your first solo exhibit, “The Evil That Men Do” received?
RK: I believe it was a success and opened the viewer’s eyes and showed them the diversity of my world.
T: “The Evil That Men Do” addressed current events like the war torn Middle East and the drug cartels in Latin America. What do you believe are the most pressing current events right now?
RK: War for profits of the banks. The dumbing down of our society. Enslavement of the masses. Poor education. Systematic government sponsored terrorism. Hunger. Adolescent soldiers in fabricated wars. The creation of false enemies. Breathe…too many
T: If you could have your art hang in any gallery or museum in the world, which one would it be?
RK: The Museum of Natural History 😀
T: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
RK: Stay true to yourself and respect those around you.
T: Being a “veteran” in streetwear, what’s the best advice you can give to the younger crowd trying to be the next Ruslan Karablin?
RK: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CREATIVE DESIRES UNEXPLORED. “It is better to take what does not belong to you than let it lie around neglected.” -Mark Twain
T: What inspires you today?
RK: Universal Truth..
A few questions and answers won’t cover the kind of impact Russ has made in the last 20 years, or even in the last 2 years since this was written. Since then we’ve seen a collaboration with Futura, a new store in Los Angeles, a valiantly designed booth at MAGIC that had everyone talking, and Coco Made Me Do It. The perspective of time – as I’ve said in so many entries before this – has been lost. People forget what it takes to build a legacy. I hope Russ has reminded you of it.