Latvian design boils down to the right choice of material, form and function. The distinct Latvian style has always separated the Latvian understanding of what is beautiful from that of neighbours near and far.
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Latvians always prefer natural materials. The lavish spread of forests has always been the main source for buildings, interior design and household objects. Everything composite and synthetic has historically been introduced by foreigners. Fibers like linen are still used for tablecloths and garments. Latvian design has no greater competitor than the Mother Nature itself.
Traditionally Latvians adorned household objects with symbolic ornaments. Tools, jewelry, musical instruments and gloves, everything was decorated using ethnographic signs. They depicted the most impressive phenomena they saw. Many symbols illustrate the stars and other celestial objects. Others refer to signs of fortune, strength and health.
Modern Latvian design dates back to the Art Noveau craze in the early 20th century. First educated Latvian architects and designers preferred everything custom-made in protest to mass production.
During the Roaring 1920’s Europe stood in awe of the Baltars porcelain. The success of the group of Latvian artists Romāns Suta, Aleksandra Beļcova and Sigismunds Vidbergs was brief yet bright. World-renowned sets of Art Deco ware won medals at the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris, 1925.
Industrial design of the 1930’s is still celebrated today. Kārlis Irbītis established the national airplane design and construction, applied in Latvia and sought after in the West. Electronic appliances by VEF (State Electrotechnical Factory) brought the flair of Art Deco to most every household in the country. The smallest camera at the time MINOX was designed by Valters Caps and mass-produced by VEF in Latvia. It has been preferred by holiday-goers and a favourite of spies around the globe.
Latvian poster designers were popular in the Soviet Union. Gustavs Klucis authored the trademark propaganda posters of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Soviet regime found the poster genre peripheral in the 1970’s and 1980’s, what gave creative freedom to the Latvian artists during that time. These form a part of the Latvian Canon of Culture.
Latvians pride in respectable school of graphic design. The stunning features of Latvian money – the Lat – must have been the only reason Latvians hesitated to join the Eurozone. The banknotes of the last edition depicted such national symbols as River Daugava, the Latvian farmstead and the greatest gatherer of the folksongs Krišjānis Barons. The symbolic image of a Latvian woman decorated coins and banknotes ever since 1922. No wonder she continues to embellish the new Euro coins today.
Most notable sign of Latvian design in the 21st century is fashion. Natural materials as linen, jersey and silk are widely applied. You can find everyday fashion, quality pret-a-porter, recycled fashion and social design. Much of it is handmade and many objects feature the traditional ornaments used since time immemorial. These all are distinguishing elements of what the world knows as the Latvian design.
© Latvian Institute, 2015; Photo © Mare&Rols, Investment and Development Agency of Latvia