Just when we thought we finally had found an excuse to call in caviar by the kilos and crates-full of vodka to brighten up our days, we settled for nostalgia over flamboyance. Frugal meals and geeky memories prevailed, which didn’t stop us from messing about with KGB worthy spy gear or Tsar-like ornaments.
Photography Benoit Banisse Art direction and styling Facetofacedesign
1. From Russia with fun
If Russians are famous for their freakishly advanced chess skills – a field they have dominated for the past five decades – they can’t claim ownership of the concept. They can, however, be credited with the creation of the mother of all puzzlers and our favourite childhood brainteaser. The cult computer game Tetris was developed by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, while he was studying at the Soviet Union’s Academy of Science. Nintendo sealed its worldwide popularity when it published it on their video game console and the Game Boy, leading it to sell more than 70 million copies. Yet Alexey is far from chilling out in a lavish pad on the French Riviera, the millions of dollars of royalties having all went to the Russian government.
Original Tetris for Nintendo
Available on eBay and second-hand video stores
2. The French connection
Coco Chanel entertained somewhat of a love-affair with Russia, from her passion for the great Russian ballets to her fascination for Byzantine jewellery and her famed affairs with composer Igor Stravinsky and the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. Many of her later designs were inspired by the religious jewellery of the Russian Orthodox Church, here visible in the rosary inspired overtones and imperial emblem of this vintage Chanel necklace. So prominent is this special bond that Karl Lagerfeld recently celebrated it with the much-hyped “Paris Moscow” collection of 2009. Needless to say, Russians have reciprocated this admiration with their undying loyalty towards the French fashion house, pulling out their credit cards the minute interlocking C’s are in sight.
Chanel Vintage necklace (€550)
Available at Collector’s Gallery
Rue Lebeaustraat 17
3. The essentials
Potatoes, bread, butter, eggs and meat. It is no surprise that the five essential components of the Russian cuisine are those richer in carbohydrates and fat rather than proteins. With harsh and long lasting winters, the body craves food capable of providing warmth and energy and simple fruit and veg’ just won’t cut it. Now, if you’d rather warm your limbs up by downing shots of vodka, try following that up with a salted pickle. This ancient tradition helps cut the chase of the pure alcohol and appears to be the country’s answer to tequila and lime.
Black bread, lard, butter and pickles, available at the Russian supermarket
Rue des Ursulines Ursulinenstraat
4. Anatomy of a classic
Forever associated with French sailors, one tends to forget that striped long-sleeved undershirts were originally the uniform of the Russian Navy. Inspired by the tradition amongst Breton fishermen to wear striped tops, the telnyashka – translated literally to body-shirt – was worn with pride by both nation’s maritime forces until a certain Gabrielle Chanel (yes, her again) took a fancy to it. Remodelling the uniform piece in a new sartorial way back in the 1910’s, she sprung a trend that has yet to disappear from the runways nearly a century later. Jean-Paul Gaultier turned the Breton top into his trademark outfit and brands such as Petit Bateau and Comme Des Garçons Play never fail to incorporate this wardrobe staple in their collections.
Comme Des Garçons Play sailor top (€115)
Available from Houben
5. Say cheese
Kids growing up in the digital age are increasingly compelled by the magic of film photography, and who could possibly blame them for it? The Lomography brand and community understands that only too well and has been at the forefront of the film resurgence with their range of lo-fi cameras featuring playful effects and a toy-like aspect. Its Austrian founders were themselves charmed when stumbling upon the L-CA, a low-tech, plastic camera created by a Saint-Petersburg manufacturer called LOMO – aka the Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Union. Conceived as a cheap and easy to use camera, its imperfections and blurry results have made it one of the most sought after models. Bonus points if you manage to snatch one bearing the Cyrillic logo.
Vintage Lomo LC-A (€250) and Diana+ (€40)
Available at Fotoshop Gent
6. I spy with my little eye…
For long, phone tapping was a practice solely reserved to national secret services. Now, pretty much anyone can aspire to spy like an FBI or MI6 agent. A worrying plethora of websites specializing in technologically advanced spy gear has burgeoned, offering the latest when it comes to mini-cameras, tracking devices, voice recorders and, our favourite, spy phones. This USB chip contains a software that can be installed on any mobile phone and will operate as an invisible application, allowing you to view text messages sent and received, monitor call logs, emails, and follow the whereabouts of the phone’s owner via a GPS tracking displayed on a Google Map. Worried yet darling?
Spy Phone Recon (€175)