1:27:13 Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design, a book review

"Soviet magpie modernism": That's how editor Michael Idov sums up a sampling of forty-eight designs from the Soviet era in the book Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design. Mostly from the 60s and 70s and typically consumer goods remembered by anybody living in Soviet times for remarkably long shelf-lives. In a planned economy, choice was limited.

But also true, as Idov states, Soviet designs had magpie tendencies: the Vyatka motorscooter was reverse-engineered from the Italian Vespa; the Zaporozhets subcompact car apes the Fiat 600.

[book cover]

But magpie doesn't apply to the second design shown in the book: Sputnik-1. Besides the awe-inspiring out-of-this-world glory of a "whiskered orb" that beeped its way around the world, many soon realized the huge amount of rocket power (Korolev's Vostok 1) to launch our first manmade satellite, weighing 183 lbs. (In contrast, America's answer, Explorer 1 weighed a mere 18.5 lbs.)

What I found especially endearing were designs born out of the necessities of Soviet life (that surprisingly now have legs in the West!). Take the collapsible cup, a four-ringed container one could carry in one's pocket and that was always available when one wanted a beverage but didn't want to share in a germ-laden communal cup (disposable paper cups were a Western fantasy in Soviet times). Voila!

Similarly, the Avoska or cotton fishnet shopping bag was a Soviet design going back to the 30s. Avoska is a pun on "avos" ("perhaps") and people carried these string bags on the off-chance they might get lucky and find something to buy (black market or otherwise). They would have an instant bag to cart it home. In our recycling/sustainable times, the Avoska fits.

The forty-eight designs of Made in Russia are presented with a bit of irreverence and an eye for irony. Consider the 250-ml beveled glass--five or six hundred million were produced every year after WWII. The twenty-sided glass held literally every drinkable. A true iconic design that has ascended to that pinnacle of Western ubiquity: Remarkable lookalikes (in three sizes) are available at IKEA (when you drink up, you see "Made in Russia" engraved on the glass bottom!).

Spidola transistor radios, Elektronika handheld video games, Raketa wristwatches, Saturna vacuum cleaners ... too many to mention and for anyone interested in inventive Soviet design, Made in Russia is a worthwhile nostalgic stroll through a consumer-land the editor and essayists sometimes suggest they don't miss much!

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The Cat at Light's End

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