‘Soft Electronics’: this polychromatic old consumer tech will blow you away

Vintage electronics and obsolete appliances are explored in all their curvy, colourful and quirky glory in a new book, Soft Electronics, by Dutch designer Jaro Gielens

Soft Electronics: Iconic Retro Designs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, Jaro Gielens, Gestalten, 2022
All photography by Studio Sucrow, from Soft Electronics, Gestalten 2022
(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

Dutch designer Jaro Gielens has an important sideline as a collector of obsolete electronics. Gielens is particularly fascinated in the early days of handheld video games, captured in the Gestalten book, Electronic Plastic. His latest book is Soft Electronics, a richly illustrated romp through his collection of domestic appliances from the heyday of the labour-saving age.

The 1960s onwards was when new technologies arrived and new product niches opened up – witness the rise of kitchen gadgets, electric shavers and other hair and beauty products, as well as the plethora of whisks, coffee makers, and electric carving knives that, we were all assured, would make our lives easier and more enjoyable. 

Vintage electronics with enduring intrigue

Jaro Gielens, Soft Electronics: Iconic Retro Designs from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, gestalten 2022, book about vintage electronics

Joghurtgerät (yoghurt maker), AEG, 1977

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

The products on show come from some of the biggest names in consumer electronics, including Braun, Moulinex, AEG, Krups, and more. Manufactured from the 1960s through to the 1980s, these devices celebrate their functionality but use bold forms and colours.

As Gielens notes, they’re also well-built and enduring – most of these products still work precisely as intended. They offer a riposte to the throwaway culture that followed and show that longevity always trumps form and fashion when it comes to social and economic responsibility. 

Braun 550 hairdryer

Braun hairdryer, Model HLD 550, 1976

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

If you’re of a certain age, there’ll be many familiar objects from childhood among these pages, and the inclusion of period-specific packaging and advertising ensures the book will play well to the retro crowd. But it’s also a tale of gendered design, and how softer forms and brighter colours were often reserved for objects aimed at women, such as hairdryers (and, it has to be said, many of the kitchen utensils).

Companies like Braun were happy to dispense with their sober, steely modernism when it came to haircare, although the quality of industrial design and execution was still extremely high. In contrast, ‘masculine’ products such as popcorn machines were styled to look like high-end audio-visual equipment, presumably not to frighten men away.

Vintage electronics by Braun, in box. Photo Studio Sucrow

Braun Man-Styler, Model HLD 51, 1972

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

Colours and forms come and go with the weather, but if there’s one thing to take away from this chronicle of an impressive collection, it’s that endurance and quality is the very best design of all.

1970s orange egg boiler by Tefal

Automatic Egg Boiler, Tefal, 1976

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

Suzette pan to cook crepes from the 1970s, made by Krups

Suzette crepe maker, Krups, 1977

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

Coffee Grinder Major, Girmi, 1965

Coffee Grinder Major, Girmi, 1965

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

Yellow shaver made in the 1970s by Philips

Special Ladyshave, Philips, 1973

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

green portable hairdryer

Die Schwebe Leise (hairdryer), Philips, 1978

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

1970s Juicer by Braun

Multipress (juicer), Braun, 1970

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)

Red coffee grinder by Braun

Aromatic (coffee grinder), Braun, 1967

(Image credit: Studio Sucrow)


Soft Electronics: Iconic Retro Designs from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Jaro Gielens, £35


Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.