Tuesday, January 28, 2014

icons of soviet design

whatever else you say about the soviet union, they did come up with some design classics. these coin-operated fizzy water machines were still in use and to be found on the streets and in train stations when i studied in russia in 1994. the glasses, which you can see below, were always a bit suspect and the water had a strange smell and taste, but it was still a classic and you had to try it at least once. once you had survived it the first time, you felt pretty invincible and oddly unafraid to try it again.

these glasses were ubiquitous in homes and restaurants and on trains throughout russia. you were likely to be served hot tea in one, but they also held cold drinks and, of course, vodka. it has a good heaviness to it and i imagine they wear like iron. they were produced by the millions from 1943 onward.

and its design pedigree isn't too shabby either - sculptor vera mukhina (she did that monument to the new soviet man - the worker and the peasant girl) designed it and it's said her design was influenced by kazimir malevich (he of the black square painting fame). i wish i'd slipped a few into my bag, but alas, i don't have any of them. they're still manufactured to this day and ikea has even copied it!

when i studied in kazan in 1994, the tramvai still looked like this, tho' i never saw one so empty as the one in this photo. they were always stuffed with people. i remember once we were so stuffed in that my feet lifted off the ground and i was just held up by the bodies around me. that was a weird feeling.

this is such a clever little tool. a little coil, perfect for warming up a mug of water for a single cup of tea or coffee. i wish i had one right now. much more economical than warming up an entire kettle.

ahh, the original lomo cameras - leningrad optics and mechanics amalgamation. when i studied in kazan in 1994, there was a store my friends and i referred to as "watch world" - they had watches and cameras. i wasn't into cameras at that time and thought these were just plastic junk, but oh, how i wish i had one (or five) now.

now they're all trendy, and back in production, thanks to the lomographic society. but alas, they're no longer cheap as chips.

the bear chocolate. i don't recall it as anything special, and if i'm honest, i think it tasted kinda gross, but even when i was in russia for the first time in 1994, it was ubiquitous. and the little wrapper with its portrait of a mama bear and her three cubs is a design classic.

speaking of watch world - here are models of raketa watches. i did buy quite a few of them when i was there. they were wonderful little mechanical workhorses, the kind you wind and there was quite a selection of leather bands, and they cost nothing. i still have at least one of them and tho' i seldom wear a watch these days (i use my phone instead), after reading this little book, i may have to dig it out and use it for old times' sake.

since i was out in the backwater of kazan, i don't know whether my raketa watches were produced by actual people or on the assembly line (they began fully automated production in 1980) (who knows how old the stock was in watch world), but they are definitely classic designs.

i learned all of this and took a little walk down memory lane reading made in russia: unsung icons of soviet design. i guess i've got russia on the brain, what with the upcoming winter olympics in sochi.


will said...

I dunno, that first photo looks like proof $tarbuck$ copied the Russians.

julochka said...

hmm, i wonder if the soviets can still sue?