Design Week in New York
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, June 7, 2015
Three years ago Steven Lerner, an enterprising young architect, found a cavernous empty space in the abandoned U.S. Post Office Sorting Facility on West 30th Street. Steven came up with the idea of replicating the off-premises shows that were such a huge success at Salone Del Mobile in Milan. He solicited a handful of small galleries in the USA and European to exhibit their artisans in a start-up show he called Collective Design. Today Collective Design is the premium exhibit of Design Week. The show relocated to 550 Washington Street in Tribeca and can brag of an impressive lineup of exhibitors that go beyond the usual suspects, which is why the exhibition is so exciting. I will take you on a belated tour of this exhibit.
I am a car buff - classic cars! This 1953 Cadillac LeMans Concept Convertible was my "take-home" favorite. Cadillac was one of the sponsors of the show and as a VIP guest I was picked-up and delivered home in a very comfortable Cadillac Limo.
After my love affair with the convertible "Caddi" - I found my friend, Dana Barnes, with an installation of her concrete seating blocks embedded with her signature knotted and felted wool blobs reminiscent of tropical islands in a sea.
Some of the most creative design ideas were tucked away in a separate wing dedicated to new talent. Amongst these I found a basket maker, who loved sewing machines and created these amazing works sewing together tightly wound cords.
Another craftsman built this elegant cabinet with doors covered in industrial rubber thereby forming a soft bubble for the finger-grips.
I loved this geometric bronze coffee table with a cubist motif marble insert
Joseph Walsh, the master of extruded ribbons of wood, created this dining table in the Todd Merrill exhibit.
and bellow a young Japanese artist, Laura Kishimoto is one of Walsh's disciples.
My friend Madeline Weinrib keeps getting better and better with her exciting rugs and textiles
And finally, the reason I spent such a productive day at Collective Design was at the invitation of Michael Boodro the Editor of Elle Décor, to join him in an open-ended conversation about design.
Michael Boodro and me with the first copy of my new book!
Fortunately, I had brought a copy of my book with me for the interview with Michael Boodro. It was immediately snapped up and launched my 2015 autographing career.
Below are just a few of the curve balls Michael threw at me:
Elle Decor: The connection between modernism and decorative arts. Why do you think so many modernists were antagonistic toward decoration, which you embraced? Your history of working with jewelers, artists, and of course your wife, Erica Wilson.
VK: I was brought up among art and artists. Incorporating decorative art into my designs was a mission. From my earliest days I commissioned artists and craftsmen to create tiles, table bases, buffet surfaces and hardware to incorporate into my designs. Naturally, working with my wife, Erica for 54 years had kept me focused on the marriage of the arts and design.
Elle Décor: Your family history of woodworking, crafting and design. Your father and grandfather, etc. Having a shop. How do you think being a retailer, interacting with the public, influenced your designs?
VK: My father, Ilii Kagan was a stanch modernist, selling Deutchewerkstätte and Vienerwerkschtätte, the two most avant-garde collaboratives, in his shops in Worms and Heidelberg. He collected German impressionist art ranging from George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz and Ernst Barlach to Kokoschka. Some of these are hanging in my apartment today. My grandfather, Julius Wallach, on the other hand was a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist: he collected folk art, peasant furniture and textiles. His store, Volkskunsthaus Wallach, in Munch was world famous. Even Hitler had his block-printed fabrics in his Eagle’s Nest. Julius was the diametric opposite of my father: they did not get along. I loved both their art, which found roots in my earliest designs. The flared legs of the peasant chairs and stools became a part of my early chair vocabulary while my Father’s adherence to the Bauhaus philosophy of ”Less is More” has motivated me all of my life.
Elle Décor: Many of your designs—even pieces from the 40s—seem so modern as to be futuristic, but you have always looked to natural and organic forms. How do you make organic inspirations seem so contemporary?
V.K. Nature is a great streamliner. Nature is a great engineer. Organic shapes are ergonomic. Learning from Nature inspired me to simplify and reduce excess elements in my designs. Though no one would ever call me a Bauhaus modernist, this is where my inspirations originated.
Elle Décor: The scale of works of contemporary art inspired one of your most famous pieces, the Serpentine Sofa—the era of the big Abstract Expressionist paintings—which inspired pieces floating a room. Andre Emmerich was a client, etc. You’ve dealt with the rise of open plan layouts, home offices and modular small pieces.
V.K. I had to take furniture away from the wall and open them for wall-to-wall art. To allow for generous seating and appreciation of the art works, I created my Serpentine Sofas that could seat eight to ten people in an animated way – not like birds perched on a power line. Building these huge sofas eliminated excess chairs and fulfilled by Bauhaus philosophy of “Less is More”. I called this “Interior Landscaping”.
Elle Décor: You have seen so many styles/trends come and go—you have ridden the wave, a few, such as Post-modernism, you embraced yourself. You have been in and out of fashion. Embraced by Tom Ford and Bill Sofield at Gucci in the nineties. Did that surprise you? It seems you are more ubiquitous in high design than you ever were. How does that feel?
V.K. Well, with a long career in design, like a marathon Runner, you can “hit the wall”. You’ve reached the end of your stretch, when along came the Memphis movement! It was a crazy, non-functional media event that was like a shot in the arm for design. We all of a sudden could look at classic designs and rejoice in their decorative appendages. Add a touch of wild colors and you step over the threshold of traditional modernism and find a new world of design opportunities. I didn’t stay in that idiom for long, but it liberated me from the doldrums and helped me to move on. - How did it feel that Tom Ford and Bill Sofield latched on to my designs? A great boost and confirmation of my work over the years!
Elle Décor: What new technologies do you think are influencing furniture design today? What do you feel about the resurgence of interest in design and making furniture among the young generation?
V.K. Furniture making is a traditional art. Yeah, plastics, high tech machinery, injection molding will make furniture cheaper and more accessible. But what I really like are the young people at this show experimenting with new ideas and carrying on in the time-honored tradition of furniture making.
Elle Décor: How do you feel about your early work being considered collectible, even as you create new pieces?
When a person in the audience asked what was my favorite design - a difficult question to answer as they are all my favorite designs, I answered, my rocking chair, NOT knowing that there actually was one on display in the show!
Design Week ushered in the introduction of my new book “VLADIMIR KAGAN a Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design”
The first official book-signing was at the Ralph Pucci gallery at 44 West 18th Street. I signed 150 copies! The opening was followed by two more events in Dallas and Houston at the David Sutherland showrooms. Dallas was where I had opened my first representative showroom some forty years ago. It’s a changed city, wild imaginative architecture that puts the East coast to shame. But no one wears cowboy boots or 12-gallon Stetson hats, which are still only worn in Fort Worth and points west. It was great fun seeing old and new friends and eating the best Tex-Mex food… alone worth the trip.
The first book signing event at Ralph Pucci in New York
Ralph Pucci, like a proud father, introducing me and my book to the guests
My two favorite red-heads: Renee Landegger and Amy Lau
Both Clarissa's and Edda's sofas are featured in the book.
My terrific book designer, Stafford Cliff flew in from London for the event
And finally, my two lovely daughters, Vanessa and Jessica hugging Dad
Book signing in Dallas
My hosts, David and Anne Sutherland who hosted my events in Dallas and Houston
Onward to Houston
There's nothing like an after party, party - here were some of the Houston guests listening to my word's of wisdom after the book signing.
I am sure, comes fall, my darling publisher, Susan Slesin will have me criss-crossing the country hustling more books and I collecting more hugs!