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.