A design journey: a new book explores Vladimir Kagan’s half-century career
Vladimir Kagan’s career spans over half a century, yet the German-born American designer’s aesthetic still feels as fresh as the day it was first created. A Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design is exactly that, a book filled with biographical detail and archive imagery, including some charming juvenilia.
Kagan’s story is a journey, first from émigré designer and skilled cabinetmaker in his father’s New York business through to promising student and then standalone star designer, making his name in a world giddy for modern form. Kagan certainly delivered on the latter. From his earliest commissions onwards he worked in the heart of the progressive establishment, creating furniture for the United Nations in New York, for Disney, General Electric and GM. His streamlined forms explored wood as a sculptural element, all seductive curves and twists, without ever losing sight of the craft and skill needed to construct them.
Kagan evolved into the pop designer par excellence, his work garlanded with awards and commissioned by cutting edge architects and big name entertainers. Throughout his career, Kagan taught and consulted, always finding his way through changing styles and tastes with remarkable aplomb. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mid-century frenzy that kicked off in the noughties saw the pendulum swing back towards the forms and materials of his earlier works, upping their values, bolstering his name and bringing him back into the industry fold as a much revered and respected elder statesman. With a preface by Tom Ford and a foreword by Zaha Hadid – both indicating the esteem in which he’s held – Kagan’s practice continues to inspire and intrigue.