6 min read

the highs and lows of design

the duality of man: from memphis design to fabergé eggs
the highs and lows of design

Let’s talk about design we love to hate.¹ Or at least, that goes in and out of fashion. I can’t believe I lived through most of 80s and 90s without giving a name to what I now know is called Memphis design (it seemed to be just the air we existed within!) but I’m delighted to give name to it now. Messy Nessy Chic takes a dive into the origins, and the idea of creating things that were “more radical, yet still able to be mass produced and accessed by a larger audience.”

Perhaps the reemergence of the 90s æsthetic will finally see the death of the “bridesmaid font.” You know, this one:

It was already ubiquitous in 2018, which is when this Vox explainer is from, but it does try to figure out why exactly it got so popular and has had such staying power (mostly: it’s playful, organic, a little spicy). And thankfully we have Jia Tolentino, writing about the “quiet protests of sassy mom merch,” which is more fascinating than it has any right to be. (And a sidenote, if anyone is wondering where fonts are now: big 70s round serifs. Have you noticed that everything seems to be in Recoleta? Well you will now!)

yes, this is fake, and there’s a wire hidden that lets the fork “float”

I just learned about sampuru, which is fake food that japanese restaurants put in their windows. I mean, I knew about it as a concept, but never thought about the process of making it, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Watch this video on how they make lettuce then join me on Fake Food Japan in buying hair clips of sushi and a dumpling clock.

A good next course is looking at how food stylist Janice Poon made the food for Hannibal the TV show:

Consider, for example, the "lung" that Hannibal cooks in the show's first episode, "Apéritif." Poon had to make something that looked like human lung. But she also realized she couldn't use a real lung from any animal. "He cooks it, but he tastes it before he cooks it. Well, that's not good, because he can't eat raw lung, so I have to find something food safe that looks raw, that will act raw, because he is flipping it around on a cutting board."

To go with that, here’s a history of how the automatic rice cooker got invented (the technology behind it—that still powers rice cookers today—is fascinating: when water evaporates away from the rice, the cooker gets hot, and there’s a switch that’s triggered at 100°C to turn it off), and how the OXO vegetable peeler came to be (it’s designed for arthritic hands!). Ciabatta, it turns out, was invented in the 80s, and it turns out the eel market is much wilder than we thought (look, the phrase “crime-ridden global eel aquaculture market” is used)

Turns out European starlings were introduced to the US because uh, some guy wanted every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to exist in the Americas. The 19th century was a truly wild place. Starlings are also BULLIES (I appreciate that the USDA guy who calls them “feathered bullets”) and their imitations of human speech is truly terrifying, please witness:

Mysteries, solved: Why Do Tennis Crowds Have to Be So Quiet?² What made Australians the world's most feverish Abba fans? Where Big Bows Come From

Also over-the-top are the outfits of the Académie Française, whose members, called les immortels (“the immortals”)³ are in charge of the French language. They are A Lot—most notably they really, really hate English loanwords, so insist on making up very long French versions of words instead: email becomes courrier electronique (“courriel” for short, lit. electronic mail) which most folks ignore. Anyway I found out some truly wild facts about them, so here you go:

Dany Laferrière, a Haitan writer, has the first habit vert to be made outside France AND his collar is inspired by Toussaint Louverture’s uniform (!)

Fauxbergé Watch: A big scandal is emerging about Fabergé eggs! An art dealer claims that at least 20 eggs in an upcoming show at the Hermitage are “tawdry fakes,” and saying that it’s being used as a chance to give provenance to counterfeits (this is a thing that has happened before, though not with Fabergé). The big one is the Wedding Anniversary Egg, which has pictures of the Romanovs that were taken after the egg was supposedly made. Also under scrutiny is the below tiara, which also doesn’t have provenance, but is now claiming to be Fabergé.

Love that this is “low quality” but still sold in 2014 for “just” £74,500

The off-the-record quote from a “prominent London Fabergé dealer” (how many can there be?!)

It is inconceivable that Russian Empresses, with the unmatched Russian crown jewels at their disposal, would demean themselves with composite low-quality tiaras of this type.

Oh, and right: a volcano is erupting! In Iceland! In a peninsula that hasn’t seen an eruption in over 800 years (!), so here’s a video of archaeologists trying to do emergency excavation of a grave (a dys, technically) before it was covered with lava.

That’s all for now! Time for me to watch the volcano webcam!

¹ Brutalism will be covered in a separate missive no doubt!

² Brief sidebar: the game that tennis evolved from was indoors, in courts with high walls and limited viewing. It’s still played in that form today and referred to as real tennis which delights me to no end.

³ Their website has a section on how to become a member, but it is called, perhaps understandably, devenir immortel which just means: become immortal. Lots to unpack!

⁴ I didn’t make up this portmanteau but I love it