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

‘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

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

 Iconic Retro Designs from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, gestalten 2022, book about vintage electronics
Joghurtgerät (yoghurt maker), AEG, 1977

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

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

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. §

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