BoingBoing's Russian Criminal Tattoo Post
09:23 AM
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Very cool to find BoingBoing's feature on MIR, the Russian criminal tattoo fashion company and Needles & Sins advertisers. [Many of you thought it was cool too, and we thank you for sending in the link.] In that post, co-owner Roman Belenky discusses his experience growing up in Russia surrounded by the tattoos and what inspired him to start the clothing line, which I thought was pretty interesting. Here's a taste from that part:

I was working in a tattoo shop and started noticing more and more people were coming in with the [Russian Criminal Tattoo] Encyclopaedia and asking to get an image from the books. We turned them away mostly because the shop was owned by Russians and we didn't think it was a good idea to tattoo most of the stuff from the books on someone that knows close to nothing about that world and sub-culture. At that time I thought it would be cool if I could offer those people a T-shirt with the image as a sort of "consolation prize." Plus a part of me also wanted to spread this fascinating Russian underground art to more people.
On MIR's site and on their Etsy pages, they offer explanations of each design, although some like the one below don't really need much explaining. What the BoingBoing article doesn't mention is their new SHTRAFBAT military-inspired line where most of the items are vintage or reconstructed military surplus clothing silk screened or altered with the Russian designs. You can hit them up by clicking the banner of the right.

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L A M E !

Maybe its your mother thats lame for giving birth to you. Quick to sh*t on someones parade.

...and he's right, maybe its better this than people tattooing it on themselves. Plus its good that its done by a Russian.

I think this is a neat idea, and it's rad that they were refusing to tattoo these images on folks, but is it that much better putting the images on clothing instead?

Don't get me wrong, I think they are boss items... very cool design and neat layout... but I don't think I would be comfortable rocking something that I know has severe implications in a prison setting. In a related note, after making "Eastern Promises" Viggo Mortensen said in the special features that when they were filming some Russian folks saw him with his faux prison tattoos and were terrified of him. They thought he was a Russian gangster.

Maybe I am wrong, but is it cool to wear things that may cause sadness and terror in others, due to personal suffering or connection? If so, where does the line get drawn?

Jes sayin'...


I think putting these images on clothing is alright. It's freedom of expression, "art" and what someone may not like, another will. I know this point can bring up the debate of their symbolic meaning. It's funny how in our culture (american) we just see, a cat in a hat! or a cute little silly kitty, but to others it implies something much more serious and potentially offending. Same with tattoos though, some people are merely "offended" by others being heavily tattooed and think it's disgusting. It's a finicky thing, the interpretation of language- that is in ALL of it's forms...


Many a night I though about if this is a good thing to do and to me it seems ok because, that soviet mindstate and "the honorable Thief" who holds up the code are long gone. The tattoos are still around but mostly are just for decoration as its rare that someone will have to answer for them.

But more so, because I dont just copy stuff out of a book, have it stamped on a shirt or whatever item, in China, and sell it for 100$, like I saw an American designer do, around the time I started doing this. I put my soul in it. We make everything ourselves and we'll continue to for as long as it is possible.

We mostly use design from the 50's and 60's and try to stay away from the really authoritative "Thief in Law" designs, like stars, or eppauletes, etc., not because it would be dangerous to wear, but because there should be a line thats not crossed. The Russian Thief is a holy person in some views and it should be held in that view. He's mostly dead now, but maybe this is my way of keeping Him around, i guess.

I dont know, am I making any sense?

@Eva, excellent point. No arguments here. I have tattoos myself that people have misinterpreted to mean something else.

@Roman, yes, you've made great sense! And as stated above, my intent is not to condemn and crucify, merely to entertain the notion of boundary lines when dealing with images that have deeper significance. I love that you put your heart and soul into your work, that's the way it should be! As also stated above I love that you tell the significance of each piece... there are a few that I truly do like quite a bit, and if I weren't poor as hell I would pick up!

I have always found the symbolic and heavily secretive language of Russian criminal tattoos to be extremely fascinating. The fact that you research and are doing this for noble reasons is equally fascinating and cool. Your explanation of the choice in designs helps these pieces make even more sense.

Again, my intent was not to offend, so I hope you aren't taking it as an attack. I support your idea and your creativity. I just wanted to present more thoughtful discourse than name-calling and bickering.


right on justin

to me glamorizing criminals is plain stupid

ill write in when i can be more thoughtful about the topic.LOL

thanks for the insight Roman.
no offense meant to you

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