VLADIMIR KAGAN MEMORIAL
April 26th, 2016
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand Nantucket winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on Swiss Mountain snow.
I am the sunlight on each sandy grain.
I am the gentle Central Park autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of pelicans in weightless flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Adapted by Vanessa Diserio from Mary Elizabeth Frye’s 1932 poem
Vladimir Kagan Reflection
Written and read by Margaret Russell, Editor-in-chief, Architectural Digest
IT’S A PRIVILEGE TO SPEAK ON BEHALF OF MY FRIEND, THE EXTRAORDINARY VLADIMIR KAGAN, AND I THANK HIS FAMILY FOR INVITING ME TO JOIN THEM TODAY. VANESSA HAS ASKED ME TO SPEAK A BIT ABOUT VLADI’S CAREER IN DESIGN.
AS YOU KNOW, VLADLIMIR WAS BORN IN 1927 IN A SMALL CITY IN WESTERN GERMANY, THE SON OF AN INTELLECTUAL CABINETMAKER AND HIS BEAUTIFUL WIFE, AND THE FAMILY MOVED TO THE STATES IN THE LATE ‘30S TO ESCAPE THE NAZI REGIME. HE EVENTUALLY STUDIED ARCHITECTURE AT COLUMBIA, WHILE WORKING DURING THE DAY WITH HIS FATHER, THOUGH HE WROTE IN HIS MEMOIR THAT WHEN HE WAS YOUNG HE WANTED TO BE A STEAM-ENGINE DRIVER ON THE RAILROAD. FURNITURE DESIGN WAS THE FURTHEST THING FROM HIS MIND. HE ALSO WROTE THAT THE TIME SPENT AT HIS FATHER’S CABINETSHOP, WHICH I THINK WAS THEN LOCATED AT 44TH ST AND FIRST AVENUE, WAS DEEPLY STIMULATING, AND THAT SOME OF THE DESIGNS HE CREATED THERE IN HIS YOUTH BECAME THE KEYSTONES OF HIS LATER WORK.
THE FATHER’S LESSONS TO HIS SON WERE SIMPLE: LEARN TO DRAW, HONOR THE HANDCRAFT, AND MEASURE THREE TIMES BUT CUT ONCE. VLADI WROTE THAT HE FAILED MISERABLY AT THE LAST RULE—AND WAS ACTUALLY A LACKLUSTER CABINETMAKER—BUT THAT APPRENTICESHIP WITH HIS FATHER TAUGHT HIM BOTH THE LIMITATIONS AND THE POSSIBILITIES FOR CREATING AVANT-GARDE DESIGNS.
VLADI SAID HIS EARLIEST PIECES WERE INFLUENCED BY THE BAUHAUS—CLEAN, MINIMAL LINES, FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION, AND LESS IS MORE, BUT HE BELIEVED THAT HIS MISSION AS A FURNITURE DESIGNER WAS TO INTERPRET HIS CENTURY, NOT TO SIMPLY EMULATE THE PAST. HIS MANTRA EVENTUALLY BECAME MORE IS MORE, BECAUSE WHO WOULD EVER WANT LESS?
HIS WORK FOCUSED ON PURITY OF LINE AND THE NEEDS OF THE USER—AND TO THAT END HE MADE COUNTLESS DRAWINGS OF THE HUMAN BODY AND EVEN STUDIED ANATOMY. THE SWOOPING SILHOUETTES OF HIS CHAIRS AND SOFAS WERE INFLUENCED BY THE CURVATURE OF THE SPINE, GIVING LUMBAR SUPPORT TO THE SMALL OF THE BACK, AND RESPECTING AND CELEBRATING THE BODY LONG BEFORE THE SCIENCE OF ERGONOMICS WAS DEVELOPED.
IT WAS THIS ATTENTION TO DETAIL AND TO FUNCTION THAT LED VLADIMIR TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FURNITURE DESIGNERS OF THE LAST CENTURY. HIS DISTINCTIVE SIGNATURE PIECES CAN BE FOUND ACROSS THE GLOBE, IN INTERIORS BOTH CLASSIC AND CUTTING EDGE. IN FACT, TOM FORD REBOOTED VLADI’S CAREER YEARS AGO BY ORDERING THE KAGAN OMNIBUS SOFA FOR 360 GUCCI STORES THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. IN HIS FOREWORD TO VLADI’S BOOK, TOM APTLY DESCRIBED HIM AS AN ARTIST, A SCULPTOR WHO WORKS WITH STEEL, METAL, WOOD, AND FABRIC—AND HE OBSERVED THAT HIS BEST PIECES COULD CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE OF A ROOM.
I COULDN’T AGREE MORE. VLADIMIR ONCE SAID THAT HE DESIGNED HIS SEATING TO BE AESTHETICALLY PLEASING FROM ALL VANTAGE POINTS, AND IN MOST INTERIORS I’VE SEEN THEY ASSUME A PRIDE OF PLACE BOLDLY OUT IN THE OPEN, NOT LURKING NERVOUSLY IN THE CORNER.
THERE’S A SEDUCTIVE BEAUTY TO VLADI’S DESIGNS, WITH THEIR LUSH TEXTURES AND SENSUAL CURVES. IT’S FUNNY, BUT I’VE ALWAYS FELT LIKE VLADIMIR’S FURNITURE WAS HAVING A CONVERSATION IN A ROOM EVEN WHEN NO ONE WAS IN IT. HIS PIECES ARE FRIENDLY—THEY EMBRACE YOU, AND THEY EMBRACE EACH OTHER. TABLES NESTLE AGAINST AN INVITING SOFA, CHAIRS CURVE INTO THEIR OTTOMANS. THERE ARE NO HARD EDGES; ALL IS WELCOMING.
ALL IS TIMELESS, TOO. TOM FORD ALSO WROTE THAT HE WAS FASCINATED THAT VLADI’S DESIGNS MANAGED TO BE SO CONNECTED TO THEIR TIME AND YET SO TIMELESS. YOU COULD SAY THAT ABOUT THE MAN AS WELL.
RALPH PUCCI, WHO REPRESENTS VLADI’S FURNITURE, TOLD ME THAT HE WAS ASTONISHED THAT VLADIMIR WAS ALWAYS WORKING, EVEN AT AGE 88, AND THAT HE SURROUNDED HIMSELF WITH SO MANY YOUNG, CREATIVE TALENTS. AND I’VE BEEN SO INSPIRED BY THE FACT THAT HE WAS ALWAYS ANTICIPATING WHAT WAS COMING NEXT WITH A HEADY SENSE OF OPTIMISM, AND ALWAYS EMBRACING THE NEW—NEW MATERIALS, NEW SHAPES, NEW OPPORTUNITIES, AND NEW EXPERIENCES.
A FEW WEEKS AGO, JACOB BERNSTEIN FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES CALLED TO ASK ME WHAT VLADI WAS LIKE. I TOLD HIM THAT “HE WAS THE MAN WHO COULDN’T SAY NO.” BUT I HAD IT BACKWARDS: VLADIMIR KAGAN WAS THAT VERY SPECIAL MAN, FILLED WITH ENERGY AND JOY AND LIGHT, WHO ALWAYS, ALWAYS SAID YES.
MAY GOD BLESS HIM. THANK YOU.
Written and read by Jessica Kagan Cushman (daughter)
My father; he knew everything and taught us so much...
he knew the back way to JFK and Yankee stadium
he could hypnotize lobsters
he taught me how to ski as soon as I could walk and let let me drink the foam off his beer when I was little
he taught me to love herb Alpert and the Tijuana brass
he could yodel like a Swiss mountaineer
he built me a treehouse and indulged my every whim
he always drank his coffee black and he wore a hat to bed every night
he tried to teach me math in the car on the way to school. it didn't work - I still can't add
he put scotch bonnet peppers in our morning eggs
he taught himself to play the accordion and to overcome his fear of flying he learned how to fly a plane
he taught me the importance of a beautiful signature and distinctive handwriting
he taught me perspective drawing and all about proportion and pattern and line and color
he made a mean Vladi-tini and he made friends everywhere he went
he could be terribly fierce but he was never more that a minute from mirth
he was an old dog who reveled in learning new tricks and he never passed up an adventure
he taught me to find beauty in everything and joy in the simplest moments
he taught me the importance of hard work and he worked until the last hours of his life.
I can't believe he's gone...I just assumed he was immortal
and in a way he is...I see him in the lilies of the valley he loved that are starting to pop up in my garden
and in the decaf coffee I make every morning according to his specifications
I see him in my living room that's filled with his furniture
I see him in the shape of my fingernails and in my daughter’s curly hair;
he's here in the myriad things I do very day that I learned from him and he's here in my dreams.
WHAT A PARTY!
Written by Vanessa Kagan Diserio (daughter)
Read by Illya Kagan (son)
What a party. For sure that is what our father would say this afternoon. And boy, did he like a good party.
But let me explain, his definition of a party and yours is probably very different. He would wake up in the morning and come to the breakfast table and if there was bacon cooked, coffee steaming and a perfectly boiled egg ready – we would hear the refrain, WHAT A PARTY! A party to our dad did not have to be at night, it did not have to involve throngs of people, and it did not have to include vodka, although he loved those kinds of parties too. A party to him was a moment that needed to be appreciated for its simple pleasures. It would be the times in the very early hours on Nantucket as small children when he and our mother would wake us up and take us in our pajamas to the south shore for a morning run and skinny dip. It would be that moment Vanessa and I had been tucked into bed by our nanny and our mother and father would come in to say goodnight and instead of just a kiss, they would rile us up. They’d play games of tie me up, a hybrid of wrestling and tickling. They would help us put on every article of clothes in our closet, one over the other, so they could be taken off in an elaborate fashion show! It would be the times he would spend in Woodstock with Jessica after our mother died, as they would revisit places and people from his past. As a young adult he would hitch hike to and from Woodstock most every weekend and as we learned on many car trips with him, getting there was half the fun. There wasn’t a drive that wasn’t an adventure and we never rode straight through. We always stopped along the way discovering new places to eat, antique shops, or a random aquarium and maybe a farm stand. These ecstatic moments didn’t happen once a day, they happened all day long. They happened as he sat at his desk drawing on what he called his dead sea scrolls, or while sitting at a work bench fine tuning a curve on a piece of clay, or even in the simple pleasure of a warm bath after a long day on the race course. Things that you or I might find banal, he would be elated by, and he always would be sure to let us know.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of things that displeased him and he was quick to point it out. Remember that boiled egg? If it was not runny in the middle, he would be livid. The evening’s salad dressing was always a point of contention. It had to be made with the correct proportions of cider vinegar, chopped onion, maggi and dill, otherwise there would be hell to pay. But salad dressing faux pas’s and general wrong doings were quickly replaced with a loving comment, a hand squeeze and a return to his giddy self. It is that genial person that touched so many lives. He would make friends with anyone and everyone. Rare was there a family dinner that didn’t include a friend or perhaps someone he met at an art opening the day before, or on ski lift or in sailboat. Our house was always filled with people; he liked to be surrounded. Winning people over was a game he played. If he met someone who was brusque, that gave him even more of a challenge. He told us “you get more bees with honey” and we would watch him, with a combination of embarrassment and amusement, at countless Dr’s offices as he worked the nurses till they fell for his charm. He wanted to be loved as he loved, and he was loved by many. If we take one thing from our father’s life it is to remember that today and each day of our lives can be filled with joy. Be sure you savor it, each and everyday, all day long – we’ll miss you, daddy - what a party.
Written and read by Mallory Cushman (granddaughter)
I had the privilege of being Vladi’s granddaughter for 29 years.
Many people in this room know him as Vladimir Kagan, designer. I simply knew him as Dappy.
Dappy who loved being surrounded by his 6 granddaughters.
Who loved to drive around Nantucket in his Model T, and sail his Indian ever Saturday in the summer. Who loved to get into fancy dress every year and star in skits for the Constable Cup.
Dappy who came to my all girl’s boarding school for grandparent’s day and suggested to my somewhat buttoned up head mistress that he come teach a class - not on furniture design - but on how to make the perfect martini.
Dappy, who loved nothing more than throwing a good party, clasping his hands together and exclaiming: What a party!
I will miss him. I will miss him at the breakfast table where our family gathered in Nantucket. I will miss him out on the water and every time I hear his favorite band Coq au Vin playing. I will miss him calling me his Mouse.
I will miss him on my wedding day and on each of my cousin’s weddings days. We will miss him every day.
I would like to read a poem called I Think of You, by Goethe for my Dappy.
I think of you,
When I see the sun’s shimmer
Gleaming from the sea.
I think of you,
When moon’s glimmer
Is reflected in the springs.
I see you,
When on the distant road
The dust rises,
In deep night,
When on the narrow bridge
The traveler trembles.
I hear you,
When with a dull roar
The wave surges.
In the quiet grove I often go to listen
When all is silent.
I am with you,
However far away you may be,
The sun is setting,
Soon the stars will shine upon me.
If only you were here!
Reflection by Sophia Diserio (granddaughter)
Poems by Erica Wilson Kagan ready by Sophia and Olivia Diserio (granddaughters)
When I was in Eighth Grade my parents told us we were moving in with Mummoo and Dappy. I was reluctant to say the least. Now we feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity most grandchildren do not have. Every morning at breakfast and every night at dinner, Dappy brought laughter and wisdom to the table. Not only was he our patriarch but he was the brother my sisters and I never had. It would be impossible to sum up our 7 years of living with Dappy in his apartment in New York so instead we would like to read two poems written by our Mummoo, Erica Wilson Kagan.
IN LA MOLE
Written at 3am
Perfumed with lavender and sage,
Warm stones underfoot…
Below, the glow of lights in the valley
Outlines the distant hills.
The trees stand silent in a dream
The cypress’ spire
Reaching up to a crescent moon.
The rush of time
Swift as a shooting star
Stops here, under the arch of sky
And this moment
Basking in solitude
May 20, 2004
Feel the sun’s warmth.
Hear the bird’s song,
This is the earth
We’ve loved so long.
Get in your boat
Sail far away
Hear the gull’s cry
Feel the sea spray.
Don’t say goodbye
Although we must part
Your memory will always
Stay in my heart.
Written by Tanya Josefowitz (sister)
Read by Polly Herring (niece)
He told us
And showed us
What was on his mind
He was one of his kind!
He was a creator since the age of four
We love him sooo
We wanted more!
But he said:
The show is over!”
Now roll me in the clover!
“That’s it –
I took the giant leap –
In your hearts
Please do me keep!”
Have a martini! Don’t cry for me!
I’m in good company!”
“Don’t cry for me!
I’ve had my day
Sit on a chair
I’m here to stay!”
I did pretty well
All I wanted to do –
Now its up to you to
Final words delivered by Rev. Sam Rodman
Vladimir, we are eternally grateful for your vision, your passion, for your love of life and for your love of us. These gifts have not been taken away by your death, only deepened. And your energy and creative spirit live on in your design, in each person here who has been touched by your love, and in your voice which still fills this room, even as it still fills our hearts.
Violin Tribute by Joanna Hay
The Kagan Family wish to thank all those who have expressed their love and support from around the world. Vladimir will be missed but never forgotten.