Content Warning

The following post contains disordered eating and self-harm.

Content Warning

The following post contains transphobia and racism.

Essays
Logot

It appeared out of nowhere.

Somewhere around 2017 a bunch of noir-esque aesthetically appealing items started popping up here and there on my Instagram feed. Most items were diligently folded and tightened with elastic bands to look like black rectangles floating on a white background. It was hard to tell what all of it was about. Were the items clothes? Accessories? Gadgets?

The brand’s name was LOT2046. I followed its Instagram account, but its visuals did not offer much explanation. Its website design was radical, too. It was full of ambient pictures, sad landscapes, and models dressed in cybergoth uniforms. Somewhere in between was the “buy” button; LOT2046 turned out to be a box subscription service.

For $49 a month it offered a strictly curated set of clothes and, for $99 a month, a wider range of essentials, including hygiene products with cryptic messages on them: “be still,” or “for the good death.” 

As a fashion critic, who over time developed a certain skepticism of such direct-to-consumer sales pitches, I felt slightly annoyed. For years we’ve been inundated with countless services that promised instant gratification of our desires for coffee, oysters, luxury bags, or sex toys—you name it—all claiming to know what you wanted better than you did.

Of course, most of them did not satisfy our desires for long; when things become too predictable, humans get bored.

But LOT2046 promised to be different. It did not permit selecting products: Everything was chosen for you already, sent in several shipments, and topped up in several months’ time. Each customer received identical items. The only thing that offered customization of one’s look was an elegant tattoo machine.

While it might have been yet another service that sends you a toothbrush every two months—so its bristles never turn into a disheveled mohawk—its entire premise was paradoxical. LOT2046’s ethos was that a uniformed life will set you free from consumerist impulses. But it still operated by the same subscription service methods that enable consumerism today—the hook was the thrill of waiting for the new package, not knowing exactly what it contained this time.

While the story and the obscurity of the brand fascinated me, I was not ready to surrender to a cryptic service with a Jeremiah 29:11 quote on its site’s footer (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”). Rather than becoming a customer, I decided to watch the mysterious brand from a distance.

Still, something about it felt weirdly familiar. It wasn’t until early 2019 that I figured out who the brand’s founder was. At that point, the phenomenon became even more intriguing, and more personal.

It appeared out of nowhere.

Somewhere around 2017 a bunch of noir-esque aesthetically appealing items started popping up here and there on my Instagram feed. Most items were diligently folded and tightened with elastic bands to look like black rectangles floating on a white background. It was hard to tell what all of it was about. Were the items clothes? Accessories? Gadgets?

The brand’s name was LOT2046. I followed its Instagram account, but its visuals did not offer much explanation. Its website design was radical, too. It was full of ambient pictures, sad landscapes, and models dressed in cybergoth uniforms. Somewhere in between was the “buy” button; LOT2046 turned out to be a box subscription service.

For $49 a month it offered a strictly curated set of clothes and, for $99 a month, a wider range of essentials, including hygiene products with cryptic messages on them: “be still,” or “for the good death.” 

As a fashion critic, who over time developed a certain skepticism of such direct-to-consumer sales pitches, I felt slightly annoyed. For years we’ve been inundated with countless services that promised instant gratification of our desires for coffee, oysters, luxury bags, or sex toys—you name it—all claiming to know what you wanted better than you did.

Of course, most of them did not satisfy our desires for long; when things become too predictable, humans get bored.

But LOT2046 promised to be different. It did not permit selecting products: Everything was chosen for you already, sent in several shipments, and topped up in several months’ time. Each customer received identical items. The only thing that offered customization of one’s look was an elegant tattoo machine.

While it might have been yet another service that sends you a toothbrush every two months—so its bristles never turn into a disheveled mohawk—its entire premise was paradoxical. LOT2046’s ethos was that a uniformed life will set you free from consumerist impulses. But it still operated by the same subscription service methods that enable consumerism today—the hook was the thrill of waiting for the new package, not knowing exactly what it contained this time.

While the story and the obscurity of the brand fascinated me, I was not ready to surrender to a cryptic service with a Jeremiah 29:11 quote on its site’s footer (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”). Rather than becoming a customer, I decided to watch the mysterious brand from a distance.

Still, something about it felt weirdly familiar. It wasn’t until early 2019 that I figured out who the brand’s founder was. At that point, the phenomenon became even more intriguing, and more personal.

The man behind the strange subscription service was Vadik Marmeladov. Chances are you have never heard of him—but if you were born and raised in Russia, and interested in fashion, design and technology, as I was, you probably knew his work.

Not that I had followed Marmeladov’s career on purpose; on the contrary, it felt like his work had followed me for over a decade.

I heard the name Vadik Marmeladov for the first time in 2008, when the editors of the Russian Dazed and Confused magazine went to Siberia to write about a fashion school I was studying at. I became one of the article’s subjects; Marmeladov turned out to be the magazine's art director.

Two years later I went to Moscow to attend the only truly cool fashion event in Russia at that time, Cycles and Seasons. Marmeladov did graphic design for it. When Russian hipsters en masse became obsessed with technology and started discussing the so-called Internet of Things (physical objects with sensors), Marmeladov was the one who built the most captivating smart object, Lapka, which he later sold to Airbnb. 

Some of my compatriot creatives saw Vadik, as he was known to his friends, as nothing less than a young Russian Steve Jobs. Others were skeptical and did not hesitate to make jokes about his pseudonym. Marmeladov is the second name of a drunkard in Crime and Punishment; in the novel, Marmeladov’s addiction ruins his family.

Though the Marmeladov I was watching hardly seemed as dark as Dostoevsky’s character, something about his aesthetic resonated with me. Both of us had grown up in the 1990s, a troubled time for post-soviet Russia when street crime was at its peak. Both of us dreamed of leaving our motherland as soon as possible. And both of us, in fact, were able to leave Russia, and come to the United States—me to New York, and him to Silicon Valley.

The man behind the strange subscription service was Vadik Marmeladov. Chances are you have never heard of him—but if you were born and raised in Russia, and interested in fashion, design and technology, as I was, you probably knew his work.

Not that I had followed Marmeladov’s career on purpose; on the contrary, it felt like his work had followed me for over a decade.

I heard the name Vadik Marmeladov for the first time in 2008, when the editors of the Russian Dazed and Confused magazine went to Siberia to write about a fashion school I was studying at. I became one of the article’s subjects; Marmeladov turned out to be the magazine's art director.

Two years later I went to Moscow to attend the only truly cool fashion event in Russia at that time, Cycles and Seasons. Marmeladov did graphic design for it. When Russian hipsters en masse became obsessed with technology and started discussing the so-called Internet of Things (physical objects with sensors), Marmeladov was the one who built the most captivating smart object, Lapka, which he later sold to Airbnb. 

Some of my compatriot creatives saw Vadik, as he was known to his friends, as nothing less than a young Russian Steve Jobs. Others were skeptical and did not hesitate to make jokes about his pseudonym. Marmeladov is the second name of a drunkard in Crime and Punishment; in the novel, Marmeladov’s addiction ruins his family.

Though the Marmeladov I was watching hardly seemed as dark as Dostoevsky’s character, something about his aesthetic resonated with me. Both of us had grown up in the 1990s, a troubled time for post-soviet Russia when street crime was at its peak. Both of us dreamed of leaving our motherland as soon as possible. And both of us, in fact, were able to leave Russia, and come to the United States—me to New York, and him to Silicon Valley.

I mentioned LOT2046 in a casual conversation with my husband, a fashion critic from New York. He did not know much about LOT2046, except that his best friend Florian was among its investors, and knew “a guy named Vadik.” It immediately became clear to me who Vadik was, so I called Florian. 

Florian Schmitt, a co-founder of Hi-Res!, one of the most influential web-design studios of the late 2000s and early 2010s, became familiar with Vadik’s work around the same time I did, in 2009. He came across it while casually browsing the Internet, finding it “fresh and different” from what he had usually seen online. Without a second thought, he emailed Vadik and offered to meet him if he was ever in London.

One day, without warning, Vadik turned up at the studio’s front door.

“He looked like he was twelve,” Schmitt told me on a video call, gazing at his apartment’s ceiling as if his memories were recorded on it. “He walked in, awed, like our studio was a temple. I was embarrassed: we were just a bunch of cool people doing good work. There was obviously a language barrier, but he threw himself at the computer right away—to do some work with dedication and professionalism.” Schmitt wanted Vadik to stay in London.

But the dream job lasted a mere year. The embassy refused Vadik the required visa to stay. He went back to Russia, then moved to the US, though he continued contacting Schmitt once in a while to share his new projects. LOT2046 was his latest invention, born as a reaction to the Silicon Valley corporate values he had grown to despise.

In 2015, Airbnb invited Marveladov to work for them full-time, right after they bought his ambitious sensor startup, Lapka. Lapka produced a number of “self-care” wearable devices that measured radiation, humidity, and temperature. The deal was cemented, even though American tech-oriented publications described Lapka as an “off-beat,” “quirky,” and “bizarro” startup. Marmeladov and his partner Sergey Philippov moved to the United States.

For Marmeladov it was the beginning of a life he always wanted, realizing dream projects with the freedom and resources that only an American Silicon Valley startup would allow. Until it wasn’t. In December 2016, fed up with corporate dick-waving, he left the company. 

In the following year a list of 30 “rules of life” appeared on Marmeladov’s now-defunct personal website. They later became “the LOT2046 manifesto” or the Code of Practice. 

“Wear the uniform” was the first rule. “Think long term (like 30 years from now)” was the second. Other rules, immediately labeled by someone on the Internet as “nihilist-marxist,” sounded more like a cri-de-coeur of a corporate culture survivor. They called to “build stories and languages, not things;” to “create your own universe;” to stop “exploiting introverts;” and to “fuck the corporations.” 

As a trained designer, who also has experience in the advertising business, I was not a stranger to such storytelling. A strong story and a sexy candy wrapper like the Code of Practice may successfully sell a weak product; the inconsistencies between what is sold and what is told are common. Carefully chosen words become an added value. You “build stories, not things” to sell things. You “fuck corporations” to establish your own.

In Marmeladov’s case, however, it felt less like a cynical advertising campaign and more like a dreamer’s attempt to finally build his own world. Yet, everything seemed too ambiguous, especially the idea of uniformity—a major selling point for LOT2046.

For a person from the former Soviet Union, a uniform represents both a totalitarian state and a severe shortage of goods, including clothes. At the same time, LOT2046’s aesthetic called to mind Silicon Valley’s cult of sameness. Even though Steve Jobs’s infamous attempt to dress Apple’s employees in an Issey Miyake uniform in the 1980s failed dismally, the tech bros of the 21st century proudly wear identical All Birds sneakers and Patagonia vests—an illusion of choice in the world of homogeneity. And, indeed, LOT2046 was getting more and more popular in certain circles of creatives and engineers, graphic and UX designers, and art directors and storytellers.

A few of them became investors, as did the musician Kanye West, whom Marmeladov bombarded with emails for over a year. Slowly but steadily Marmeladov’s portfolio began to grow with projects for West and his family. He created the trophies for West’s Pornhub Awards ceremony—a series of flame-colored alien-looking sex toys—as well as some packaging for Kylie Cosmetics, and a logotype for SKIMS, the shapewear brand established by Kim Kardashian. Marmeladov was also mentioned by the press as one of the designers behind YEEZY home, Kanye West’s ambitious low-income social housing project, which was closed in 2019 when all the buildings had to be demolished due to permit violations.

Regardless of his closeness to the always-on-the-radar Kardashian-West clan, Vadik is a very private person. He neither advertises his relationships nor gives interviews—with very rare exceptions. He did not respond to my multiple requests for an interview for this story.

Kyle Chayka, who is now a contributing writer for The New Yorker, was actually honored with an interview. He discovered the brand in 2017—to his taste, it looked fake. “It just felt too radical to be true,” he told me via Zoom. “It looked like design fiction, and I was curious where the money was coming from. Who would fund it? Because it is a very niche product.” His skepticism seemed perfectly rational. Then, one of his friends subscribed to LOT2046; Chayka became intrigued and subscribed as well. Soon after, vacuum-sealed paper bags began showing up at his front door.

A piece Chayka wrote for Ssense was mostly about his consumer experience. But a quote from Vadik that made it into the article just added more mystery: “There’s no founder, no equity, no board of directors, no future.”

Although Chayka called LOT2046 an “aesthetic with a moral dimension,” during our interview he was less optimistic. He found the narrative to be better than the products, which, to him, have outlived their usefulness. “Any type of total system gets boring,” he said. “People crave variety.”

Other customers, who were fascinated by the brand’s cultish visual identity, were skeptical about its ideology.

Victor Lander, a co-founder of Avocado Toast, a creative production studio, got his first delivery from LOT2046 as a birthday gift. He always wanted to buy enough monochromatic clothing to build a pragmatic wardrobe capsule for himself. LOT2046 fit well into his wardrobe; however, Lander would not wear it exclusively, as was Marmeladov’s idea, nor was he convinced by the brand’s ideology. “Vadik can talk about liberation and the way Zuckerberg dresses as much as he wants. But as soon as a product is released, the narrative does not belong to its creator anymore.”

Nevertheless, to Lander’s surprise, people he hardly knew started recognizing his clothes. “A dude from Google who I met at a party told me that he owned the same LOT2046 jacket.”

I talked to the “dude from Google” a couple of days later. Anton Tolchanov is a software engineer from London; he subscribed to LOT2046 in 2019, when his acquaintance assured him that the service was not a hoax. At the time he was enjoying his new subscription, LOT2046 was less totalitarian: Tolchanov could unsubscribe from the products he did not want (such as dental powder), or purchase a sleek lint-roller on top of his subscription (for a cool $99). He did not care much about the brand’s ethos or Vadik’s fans’ obsession with the Code of Practice. What pleased him most of all was the element of surprise. “It was like having a Christmas every month,” he said.

This childish but sincere expectation of a monthly gift was what all the other customers I spoke with referred to. “We are all kidults,” stated one of the subscribers. It seemed that the brand hit on a core need—an inexorable longing to be pampered, as if loved unconditionally. 

The festivities of LOT2046 ended when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains. Some packages were delayed up to 11 months. As a consolation, the brand offered a $15 subscription to their YouTube channel, sharing daily streams with Vadik. The brand’s future quickly became uncertain.

Vadim Bulgakov, a former colleague of Marmeladov who worked with him on Lapka, and describes him as “beautifully chaotic,” said that the uncertainty may have started even earlier when Vadik’s partner Sergey Philippov left the brand. “Many things that Vadik produced are the result of his duet with Sergey, and people still overlook this fact,” he said. Philippov politely yet firmly declined my request for comment. The same went for other people affiliated with the brand. One of them suggested subscribing to the service to “get to know more about it,” even though he did not work for the company anymore. Another spoke with me for 45 minutes about his devotion to the company’s values which restricted him from talking about its operations.

In early October of 2021, LOT2046 deleted all of its Instagram pictures. Although it was one of their common communication tactics—eliminating everything and starting their Instagram account “from scratch”—the new message, typed under a lonely picture of a folded pair of socks, stated that all payments would now be Bitcoin-only. The explanation appeared on the brand’s YouTube channel: Marmeladov considers Bitcoin the currency of the future.

The brand’s website was turned into something named LOT OS. The interface, still austere, showed all Bitcoin investments (including the nicknames of inventors and the amount of cryptocurrency they transferred) and offered a chance to buy the company's shares. When this rebrand occurred, the company’s value was shown as over twenty million dollars in Bitcoin. The number of active subscriptions was nine.

The festivities of LOT2046 ended when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains. Some packages were delayed up to 11 months. As a consolation, the brand offered a $15 subscription to their YouTube channel, sharing daily streams with Vadik. The brand’s future quickly became uncertain.

Vadim Bulgakov, a former colleague of Marmeladov who worked with him on Lapka, and describes him as “beautifully chaotic,” said that the uncertainty may have started even earlier when Vadik’s partner Sergey Philippov left the brand. “Many things that Vadik produced are the result of his duet with Sergey, and people still overlook this fact,” he said. Philippov politely yet firmly declined my request for comment. The same went for other people affiliated with the brand. One of them suggested subscribing to the service to “get to know more about it,” even though he did not work for the company anymore. Another spoke with me for 45 minutes about his devotion to the company’s values which restricted him from talking about its operations.

In early October of 2021, LOT2046 deleted all of its Instagram pictures. Although it was one of their common communication tactics—eliminating everything and starting their Instagram account “from scratch”—the new message, typed under a lonely picture of a folded pair of socks, stated that all payments would now be Bitcoin-only. The explanation appeared on the brand’s YouTube channel: Marmeladov considers Bitcoin the currency of the future.

The brand’s website was turned into something named LOT OS. The interface, still austere, showed all Bitcoin investments (including the nicknames of inventors and the amount of cryptocurrency they transferred) and offered a chance to buy the company's shares. When this rebrand occurred, the company’s value was shown as over twenty million dollars in Bitcoin. The number of active subscriptions was nine.

To some readers, Marmeladov may appear as one of those grifters or string-pullers, gleefully romanticized by major cable TV networks. But he may also be just a talented designer, who, infected with Silicon Valley sensibilities, fell into a rabbit hole of his own cryptic concepts.

In late September of 2021, Marmeladov was giving a virtual lecture at California College of the Arts to design students. Prophesying over Zoom from the dark of his room, he encouraged students to build their companies as cults, as he believes such an approach promises immortality.

On November 15, 2021, I got a message from Florian Schmitt with a link to the LOT2046 website. “LOT2046 is closed,” it declared. “This domain and the website will be terminated by 1 January 2022. We are refunding all purchased tokens, remaining balances, and missing packages. Please check for the email from LOT soon,” the notice continued.

When I reached out again to LOT2046’s now-former subscribers, most of them said that they were not sure of what happened or why. None of them had received the email they had been promised. However, some Reddit users said that they had actually received refunds.

As of December 2021, all LOT2046 accounts have been deleted.

Rule number 28 of the Code of Practice stated, “Remind yourself daily: you and everyone you know will die.”

In late November of 2021 a Twitter account @MarmeladovVadim appeared. The bio reads “35, Father, husband, tech entrepreneur. In that order. Crypto, fashion, and design news. Opinions are my own.” A young man with a big nose, sad eyes, and an awkward smile is its avatar.