‘Beatnik Market’: Russian Beat in St. Petersburg

Published: October 28, 2015

Универмаг «Битник»
Итальянская улица 17
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Interested in some retro fashion or events while in Piter?  Between Nevsky and the Russian Museum, the Beatnik project boasts a bar and a gallery/event space.  They hosted the Beatnik market from the 6th-9th of October, showcasing DJs, artist Stas Kazimov, and retro market with local ‘culture intelligentsia.’  In a courtyard on Italianskaya ulitsa, the outdoor space had a DJ table set up, the bar at the ready, and various vendors selling jewellery, sunglasses, and other vintage knickknacks.  Inside, suspended from the ceiling on the second floor, hung coats, blouses, and sweaters from across the generations.  Shoes, purses, bags, and more jewellery were in the back room along with a comfy old-fashioned couch and changing areas.  While most of the clothes were a bit out of my price range, the Beatnik project has a pretty impressive place.  If you’re interested in retro/vintage markets or events, check out their page here.

Stas Kazimov’s “Рафинад” or “Lump Sugar”
On the 6th of October, St. Petersburg native Stanislav Kazimov showcased his exhibit “Рафинад” on the second floor of Универмаг Битник.  The sweet theme was fitting for these paintings: the consistency combined with the predominance of pastel colors simulated a flashback (or ahead) to spring instead of the gray, rainy autumn day it was.  Sensual and sugary, check out the Facebook page for the event to catch some of Kazimov’s works which were on display.

SRAS student Gaby enjoying Stas Kazimov's art exhibit at Beatnik универмаг!
SRAS student Gaby enjoying Stas Kazimov’s art exhibit at Beatnik универмаг!

Beatnik Fashion
Some staples of beatnik fashion are dark-colored clothes: skinny pants, turtlenecks, a cigarette for good measure.  Throw on a beret and dark sunglasses, maybe a striped black-and-white shirt to break up the monotony.  Add some bongos if you’re feeling musical.  For females, bright red lips or small accents of a bright color with a scarf or purse were sometimes added.  Capri pants, pencil skirts, dark blouses, ballet flats, and leotards were the norm.  For males with the slim-fitting and dark clothes, goatees and/or sideburns typically topped off their ensembles.  Today, you can recreate the look with a striped shirt, black skinny jeans, oversized sweaters, sunglasses (Clubmasters or Wayfarers), and a black beret.  Cigarette and book of poetry optional, but popular.  Check out more beatnik fashion tips here.

The Beat, in USA and Russia

What is ‘Beatnik’ exactly?
Beatniks came out of the Beat Generation, depicted through the works of American writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burrough.  This group of writers and their contemporaries resented and resisted the American status quo, preferring self-expression and exploration in all ways: scholarly, musically, sexually, religiously.  They were the ‘new bohemians,’ encouraging creativity and non-conformity.  The term ‘beat’ itself is credited to Herbert Huncke, street hustler, who enlightened Jack Kerouac in 1948.  It was as slang term typically used in the African-American community in New York City, beat meaning tired, broken down.  Kerouac appropriated the term with an entirely different connotation: upbeat and on the beat (in the know).

And onto the Beatniks
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen popularized the term ‘beatnik’ in 1958, lamenting a party hosted by the local “S.F.’s Beat Generation (oh, no, not AGAIN!), hosted a party in a No. Beach house fo 50 Beatniks… slopping up Mike Cowles’ free booze. They’re only Beat, y’know, then it comes to work…”  It’s been speculated that the Russian -nik suffix was due to the Sputnik launch which same six months prior, further implying disapproval.

Many of the beat generation considered beatniks artificial copies lacking the emphasis on enlightenment.  “Beatnik” became the new mainstream advertising buzzword, selling the appearance and the attitude.  However, the preferences for jazz, poetry, and fashion remained the same.
The beat movement split after the 1950’s into the beatniks and, shortly after, the hippies.  Hippies were known for their flamboyant, colorful styles and more often than not took part in protests of a political nature.  Beatniks, on the other hand, staunchly opposed politicization of their beliefs, firmly remaining apolitical.

Russian Beatniks
Halfway around the world and around the same time, Soviet youths were gathering in friends’ apartments, having jazz parties and reading aloud scandalous poetry.  Some historians correlate the Western beat movement with the Soviet “New Wave” during the thaw (оттепель).  Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. went through periods of materialism and conformity during the mid-twentieth century, with the 1960’s bringing a shift in respective countercultures and increasing freedoms.  There was more access to Western literature and more accessible travel around the Eastern bloc, with flourishing arts in the bigger cities.  Writer Vasili Aksyonov, one of these early Soviet beat-esque groups, wrote of the purported parallels between the two:

“Both represented generations that were fed up with manipulation by synonymous capitalist and communist societies, and that yearned for a romantic, anarchic revolt against their societies. Both denied the importance of the state and public institutions, emphasizing instead the importance of inner freedom. These generations, East and West, insisted on the importance of one’s own path in life, whatever it may be – drinking, traveling, smoking, jazz, making love, talking about Buddha or Jesus, and so on.”

Check out Aksyonov’s article if you’re interested in learning more about the differences between the 1950’s Western beat movement and the Soviet New Wave.

Sup with Stilyagi?

Movie poster from Stilyagi - check it out if you haven't already!
Movie poster from Stilyagi – check it out if you haven’t already!

Stilyagi (Russ: стиляги) was the name given to the beats and beatniks, commonly translated as ‘hipster,’ or sometimes, ‘dudes.’  They were cynical, politically indifferent, and rebelled against conformity.  1950’s стиляги wore bright colors and were interested in Western music and fashions, combing flea markets for a mishmash of Western-styled clothes and accessories.  Regardless of matching, these Russian hipsters were into brightly-colored Zoot suits of sorts, loud patterns and platform shoes (“манная каша”).  For the ladies, the pin-up style was popular: pencil skirts, highly styled hairdos, colored lipstick, with tight and bright sweaters.  Jazz was the soundtrack to the era, with variations of the dances along the lines of the boogie, jitter bug, and slow-fox.

These early стиляги were subject to a lot of societal criticism, threats, and general aversion. If you’ve seen the film Stilyagi (Буги на костях), then you can have an idea of the sort of obstacles these hipsters faced.  By the ’60s though, this pressure was somewhat lifted as more Western styles began pouring into Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) like the Beatles, hippies, and permissible jazz.

Shopping Retro Today
InYourPocket guide
St. Petersburg Style guide

About the author

Allie Sasek

Allie Sasek graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and a double minor in Women and Gender Studies and Planning, Public Policy, and Management. She previously studied abroad in St. Petersburg during summer 2014, studied and interned in Warsaw in summer 2015, and will return for SRAS's Russian Studies Abroad in St. Petersburg for the 2015 fall semester. Allie intends to attend a masters program in Europe, and work as a sustainability consultant for international NGOs, businesses, and governments.

Program attended: Challenge Grants: Funding for Study Abroad

View all posts by: Allie Sasek

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