The design world lost an icon last fall. Vladimir Kagan left behind his timeless furniture designs, his books and a legacy that began in the Modernist movement from the last century.
Referred to by those closest to him as Vladi, Kagan had a zest for life and a bright spirit. He was born in a small town in Western Germany in 1927. The son of a cabinetmaker, his family fled Nazi Germany to come to the US during the Second World War. His interests in sculpture and painting eventually turned to architecture and design, while studying at the Columbia University School of Architecture.
As Kagan developed as a furniture designer, he discovered his own path. Gone were the hard-edged, minimalist designs of his youth, giving way to more sinuous shapes. “He believed that his mission as a furniture designer was to interpret his century, not to simply emulate the past,” said Margaret Russell, former editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest during her eulogy.
Curvaceous, sensual, and contemporary, he created pieces from his “innate belief that furniture should be contemporary and comfortable,” as Curbed magazine reported at the time of his death. “My organic shapes follow the human body. I design ‘vessels’ to hold the body,” he had said. “Human anatomy is not angular.” His Serpentine Sofa is among one of the most iconic upholstered seating designs ever created, and originals sell for increasingly high prices at auction.
Kagan was influenced by the Bauhaus ideology of his time. ‘Less is more’ was their pragmatic mantra. A large amorphous sofa that could seat ten to twelve people eliminated the clutter of chairs. And form was only half of the story, according to Kagan. “No piece of furniture, no matter how beautiful, is functional unless it is also comfortable or useful.”
Vladimir Kagan was an early fan of Ultrasuede, specifying it often as a cover for his sleek designs. Few fabrics can be stretched to create the tight seams that helped to show off the lines of his signature upholstery frames.
As we sit and sip, we raise our glasses to him. Cheers, Vladi.