Ruslan “Russ” Karablin is a man of action. He’s in New York on this wintery day on behalf of the Agenda trade show. Agenda is where anybody who is somebody in the streetwear industry goes to show their new lines to media outlets and buyers. It’s a dance he’s been doing for years. A cha-cha he can rock with his eyes closed, as he’s been working with garments and art-on-garments for over 20 years. Russ (AKA Ssur forwards) is a survivor, and proof positive that if you stick with it, your ideas will eventually get stuck on the people. His persistence has created a platform for his fine art, and his pieces have become wearable, conceptual pieces in and of themselves. Just ask your man, ASAP Rocky.
Mass Appeal: Tell us about where you grew up.
Russ: I grew up in Brooklyn — the Coney Island section — until I finally moved to Manhattan, close to 20 years ago.
And when you were a kid, what were your influences? What inspired you?
Subway stations, Kung-Fu flicks, Planet of the Apes — shit like that (laughs).
How was your neighborhood like coming up?
It was pretty budget; ghetto-ish, you know. I don’t like throwing around that word too much, but it was definitely the ‘hood.
How did that environment mixed with your background create who you became?
I guess it helped in a way, ‘cause even within my own peers — I’m originally from Russia — I’ve always been kind of an outcast. But I guess growing up in Coney Island around other minorities, I kind of fit in better.
In terms of clothing and streetwear and design, you been around, you seen it come and go, you’ve seen the swings, you’ve seen people who are friends and contemporaries be on top, and be on bottom. It’s a very temperamental kind of world. Talk about what it takes to navigate the fickleness of the whole world of streetwear.
It’s definitely been an up-and-down journey. You get on the pedestal, and then you’ve got to dodge the tomatoes. Persistence overcomes resistance. And doing what you love always, above and beyond anything.
You’ve been in it to win it since ’92. What has changed, in the time since you got wrapped up in all of this, you think?
Really, everything has been said and done. Most of the time people aren’t listening, so we get to do it again but for us, this time, more people listened. I’ve changed. I see it more clearly now.
The Internet wasn’t really poppin’ in ’92. How has the Internet directly affected the world that you’re in?
The Internet has changed everything, man; it sort of makes everything uniform in a strange way. There is not much individuality as there was per se, because if something is sick at the moment, and people are loving it, it spreads a lot quicker nowadays.
What would you say is the philosophy of your brand?
Sex, politics, and protests [Laughs]. A positive message. A universal message.
How would you describe your new spring line?
Blacked out [Laughs].
Most of it is on black bodies of clothing, so yeah, blacked out.
Why did you go with all-black?
It always appealed to me.
Speaking of all-black, how did the whole A$AP thing come together?
Rocky came through to the store and was friends with this guy named Pat who interned for us at a certain point. Pat brought around the A$AP crew. They were feeling the gear. We had a good-ass symmetry—Rocky happens [to be] the golden child of hip hop at the moment, so the timing was right. Everything was just aligned. Preparation meets timing.