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The expression retro ( lat. Retro backwards, retrograde backwards) designates in many areas specifically related to older traditions or characteristics. The term vintage is also discussed in this context . The term retro wave denotes a cultural trend that presents itself as deliberately backward-oriented fashion . Works of art or cultural achievements are produced through recourse to concepts or styles from bygone eras.

Retro as a cultural trend

The term is used as a fashion term both alone and in compositions such as retro style, retro model, or retro design . Retro fashions can now be found in almost all areas of cultural production, from everyday objects to clothing and architecture to literature and music.

The somewhat new term is not particularly precise and includes various current phenomena in relation to the motivations and types of recourse, such as ironic quoting (see postmodern architecture ), nostalgia , camp , style collage , bricolage , sampling (music) , steampunk , searching, finding, maintaining and restoring memorabilia, resuming traditions , processing, etc. Cultural memorabilia and historical shapes and colors from past decades and centuries are picked up and reprocessed in different ways.

Retrogrades are particularly evident in the increasingly rapid reanimation of fashions from past decades in all imaginable areas of culture. For example, turned the 1950s into the 1980s (with petticoat and pleated trousers ), the late 1960s and 1970s in the 1990s as a revival (with corduroy and flares back). Bonds from the 1920s to 1950s can also be found. In the context of historicist and eclectic approaches, style pluralism and mixed styles arise. In addition to the simultaneous accessibility of different and sometimes seemingly contradicting styles, the slogan anything goes is often found .

Retro is a term that is also popular in clothing fashion for aesthetic recourse to the formal vocabulary of past eras and genres . The fashion associated with retro waves is also called retro look .

Explanatory models

That the children of the 1970 mid-1990 have been recognized by the industry as affluent target group and the products of their youth - toys, food and television series ( Vicky , Fanta JoJo, Playmobil , Lego , Tom Sawyer , Rubik's Cube , Barbapapa , TriTop , Brown Bear , Grünofant , Slime ) - rediscovered, can be seen as a possible background. This was reflected in fiction in Florian Illies ' book Generation Golf . Philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio have dealt with the background.

“While so many generations, and especially the last, have lived at the running pace of history, in the euphoric or catastrophic perspective of a revolution - today one has the impression that history has withdrawn, leaving behind a fog of indifference, indeed traversed of rivers, but emptied of all their references. In this emptiness the phantasms of a lost story flow together, in it the arsenal of events, ideologies and retro fashions - not so much because people believe in them or base some hope on it, but simply because they come back to life around the clock in which there was at least a story in which there was at least violence (and be it fascist violence) or at least an effort of life or death. ” (Jean Baudrillard - Kool Killer. History: A Retro-Scenario , 1978, P. 50)

Retro in the sense of cultural recourse can also be interpreted as a new term for the fact that in certain epochs, for different reasons, recourse to the past was postulated and realized. The term Renaissance already has an echo of the retrograde in its name. With the reorientation of modernity towards innovation , imitating, picking up and rediscovering as part of the cultural conception was sidelined. Imitation was considered an original concern of premodern art ( mimesis ).

Retro as an indication: Discussion about modernity and postmodernism

Since the 1970s, stylistic recourse to earlier genres and epochs has been interpreted as an indication of the thesis of the dawning postmodernism and thus a turning away from modernity, or taken as an opportunity to criticize the deficits of modernity and its belief in progress. In some cases, the charge is made that the reprocessing of different epochs brings with it the loss of measure, control and scale. A loss of syntax through repetition can also be accused. The question can also follow whether modernity adequately characterizes the 20th (and 21st century), or whether retro phenomena are not more than temporarily (and intellectually) limited phases and phenomena of time.

According to these interpretations, retro cannot be understood without the close connection to modernity, which is the “hunt for the new” and constant innovation. Seen in this way, retro can be seen as the opposite of the main trend of so-called high culture. If this was questioned, as in Pop Art , retro tendencies were always noticeable. In a world that is changing rapidly and apparently offers fewer and fewer points of reference for many, retro trends can appear as a logical consequence, to which the accusation may be justified of merely serving the longing for cozy security.

Since the early 1970s, when it became obvious that modernity was in a serious crisis, there have been the first retro movements even within the ranks of the progressive believers. So z. B. in the field of architecture. The New York Five , to which Richard Meier , Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman belonged, set themselves the goal of following the path of modernity back to Le Corbusier (1887–1965). Even an apparently modernist building like the ICC in West Berlin, built from 1975 to 1979, with its references to science fiction and its representational nature, is more of a kind of retro-futurism .

The increase in retro movements since the early 1970s is also linked to the criticism of capitalism, consumption and culture of the 1968 generation, the growing ecological awareness and the weakening of belief in progress during the economic boom ( oil crisis ). The ecological idea of recycling also ideologically supports phenomena such as the spread of second-hand shops or flea markets , whereby this tendency was also assessed socio-politically as a progression, while conservative circles held on to progressive thinking for much longer.

Media society and myth

Today's world can be seen as a media society in which a flood of information is simultaneously available. It could be assumed that in such a society the exponential increase in information would also lead to a general increase in well-founded and differentiated knowledge. This assumption is not confirmed, on the contrary, as the media theorist Marshall McLuhan noted, society tends rather to myth and for very practical reasons - a myth is simply more time-saving for mass society.

The Italian writer Roberto Calasso writes: “... the world is inescapably wrapped in a poisonous shell of parody. Nothing is what it claims to be. Everything is a quote from the moment it appears. ” A particularly revealing example of the use and amalgamation of different forms of quotation is when Michael Stipe seems to be singing a“ Hey Baby ”like Elvis Presley in“ Man on the Moon ” . In reality, however, his singing is an homage to the Elvis parody of the American comedian Andy Kaufmann , who parodies not Elvis Presley, but rather his imitators. This reverence is thus an homage to a parody of imitation.

Modern forms of expression in particular, such as cinema and pop music , which emerged in close relationship with mass society, are full of such overlapping quotations. Outstanding representatives of so-called postmodern cinema are the Coen brothers , Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino .

Retro in music

In the 1980s, the keyword rockabilly was used to refer to the youth culture of rock 'n' roll of the 50s, in the 1990s mainly again to pop and the aesthetics of the 1960s and 1970s ( Exotica , Lounge , Funk , Psychedelic , Rock , Schlager ). In jazz there was a retro wave at the end of the 90s, the retro swing , to which dance groups danced in stylish clothes from the 1930s / 1940s.

However, the grunge wave at the beginning of the 1990s with its references to 1970s bands such as The Who , Led Zeppelin , Black Sabbath was a reminder of what was lost after punk . This can be traced back even further: in the later 1970s, punk propagated a return to the raw origins of rock music as opposed to the bloated pomp of Pink Floyd , Yes and Queen . The British Invasion of the 1960s, however, had two sources. While the Rolling Stones , Yardbirds , Cream and Free picked up the great blues wave of the forties by Otis Rush and Muddy Waters , the Beatles were countered by their record company that guitar rock was no longer modern.

In the first half of the noughties, retro scenes from the 1980s were found in club music, clothing and hairstyles. For example, a slightly punk outfit was fashionable , which many young people used to describe themselves as an alternative subculture . That this was followed by the repetition of the 1990s was not surprising. In rock and pop music, guitar rock based on the 1960s became the first hype of the new millennium by bands such as the Strokes , White Stripes , Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and International Noise Conspiracy . In music, what is now known as the retro wave refers in particular to the success of a scene that has been set in motion by the musical work of Amy Winehouse since 2006 at the latest . Singers like Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele stormed the charts. Both Soul , as well as swing and rock 'n' roll experienced a revival. A psychedelic revival has been particularly well represented since the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century . At the same time, the late 1980s and even the early to mid 1990s are making a comeback in music as trash pop .

other areas

Lufthansa Airbus A321 D-AIRX "Weimar" in a retro paint job

Some airlines have now designed at least one aircraft in a historical color scheme. In recent years, the Italian railways FS has painted some of its current locomotives in historical colors. In addition, the retro look found its way into technology. Some of the shapes that were used in technology from 1910 to 1960 are reused in whole or in part by designers on automobiles, boats and airplanes, but also on household appliances such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and toasters.

In the winter of 2004, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow , Polar Express and The Incredibles , three outright retro films hit theaters. Retrograde design ideas also influence the visual arts . The artist Ralf Metzenmacher describes his painting as “retro art”. He sees this as a combination of art and design and as a further development of Pop Art.

Retro car design

In the early 1990s, retro design became a trend in automotive design . Many automobile designers based their vehicle design on typical stylings of the 1950s and 1960s. The pioneer of the new fashion was the Mazda MX-5 , which from 1989 to 1998 was almost a copy of the Lotus Elan from 1962 in its first form and is considered the first newly designed roadster in decades. Typical European representatives of retro design are the VW New Beetle , the Mini and the Fiat 500 . According to experts, retro design has brought back the emotionality of automotive design.


Retro design in motorcycle construction

There are also increasing numbers of examples of retro design in motorcycle construction and almost all well-known manufacturers offer motorcycle models with a classic look. The design of the Triumph Bonneville T120 from 2017 is based on the design of the 1960s, or that of the BMW R 18 introduced in 2020 is based on the BMW R 5 from 1936. In particular, motorcycles from the chopper and cruiser segments have for many years been closely approximated to the appearance of classic Harley-Davidson motorcycles.



  • Retro-Magazin, Issue 31 (Summer 2014): What is retro ?. Winnenden: CSW publishing house.
  • Elizabeth E. Guffey: Retro: The Culture of Revival. Reaction, London 2006, ISBN 1-86189-290-X .
  • Wolfgang Pauser: retro aesthetics . In: Hubertus Butin (Ed.): DuMont's glossary of terms for contemporary art. DuMont Verlag, Cologne 2002, pp. 266-270, ISBN 3-8321-5700-X .
  • Rem Koolhaas: Delirious New York
  • Robert Venturi: Learning from Las Vegas
  • Heinrich Klotz: Postmodern and Modern
  • Marshall McLuhan : The medium is the message
  • David Müller: Retro Trend: How and Why Old Brands Have New Success , VDM, 2006, ISBN 978-3-86550-526-2 .
  • Simon Reynolds: Retromania. Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. London: Faber & Faber 2011. ISBN 978-0-86547-994-4 .
  • Stefan Wirtz: The brand comeback , Düsseldorf 2009, ISBN 978-3-639-11725-7 .
  • Achim Böhmer, Sara Hausmann: Retrodesign stylelab. Modular system of design characteristics. Hermann Schmidt, Mainz 2009, ISBN 978-3-87439-726-1 .
  • Gregor Stawinski: Retrofonts. Verlag Hermann Schmidt, Mainz 2009, ISBN 978-3-87439-784-1 .
  • Paolo Tumminelli: Car Design. teNeues, 2004, ISBN 9783823845614

Web links

Wiktionary: retro  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

See also

Characterizations of retro phenomena can be found in the articles historicism and eclecticism as well as nostalgia and revival .

Individual evidence

  1. Markus Caspers : designing motion, Automobildesigner from 1890 to 1990, Basel 2016, p. 59f
  2. Thorsten Firlus: Autodesign: The mysterious charm of retro cars. In: Zeit Online. March 19, 2012. Retrieved July 8, 2017 .
  3. ^ Paolo Tumminelli: Car Design. teNeues, 2004, ISBN 9783823845614 , p. 78
  4. Thomas Geiger, Marco Dalan: Retro-Design: Why new cars like to look old so much. In: . September 21, 2007, accessed October 7, 2018 .
  5. ^ Paolo Tumminelli: Car Design. teNeues, 2004, ISBN 9783823845614 , p. 78
  6. BMW project R18 - analogue statement. In: May 27, 2019, accessed July 9, 2019 .