Tête-à-tête with Vladimir Kagan
Some relationships are meant to be. Widely celebrated designer Vladimir Kagan is a true beacon of inspiration for “creatives” the world over. Avant-garde furniture designer and master of striking contemporary interiors, Mr. Kagan’s career and body of work is nothing short of astounding.
It was a Saturday morning in Manhattan, over 10 years ago, when I had the good fortune to first meet Mr. Kagan. At the time, I was working as a second assistant to a top line fashion photographer in the city and we had just finished an editorial shoot with Erykah Badu. I was returning props we had rented and borrowed for the photo shoot, one of which was an exquisitely crafted little piece of furniture made by Vladimir Kagan.
When I entered Mr. Kagan’s flat on Park Avenue, I was completely bowled over by his artifacts, exquisite collection of personal work and aesthetic. We got to talking about some of the gorgeous Indian tapestries and cushions in the foyer of his lovely home and it led to a discussion of my father’s fabrics and life-long work in print design. At the time, I was supplying some of his products to a store called Pastec in Soho. A couple of weeks later, I returned to Mr. Kagan’s home to show him some of our hand-printed scarf and shawl creations – twill, tussar, and jacquard silks, wools and pashminas. This marked the beginning of a lasting friendship, one which included his lovely and talented wife, the late Erica Wilson. A couple of years later I had the rewarding experience of showing both of them around my home city of Mumbai, India.
In one's lifetime, it is quite possible to be blessed with a few precious moments spent in the company of a truly remarkable and inspiring person. I can surely say that Mr. Kagan is one of those individuals in my life. Sophisticated, talented, and all-around kind and loving gentleman. At 87, he works with the same passion as he did at the dawn of his career. I had the great opportunity to catch up with him recently on a visit back to New York, and we picked up where we left off in his Park Avenue home.
- Payal Parekh Bugbee
Parekh Bugbee: As one of the foremost pioneers of modern furniture design, your work is widely recognized and celebrated around the world. What has been some of the inspiration behind your designs and concepts over the years?
Kagan: I have always looked to nature for my inspiration. Trees, mountains, water…natural forms are my inspiration.
PB: Who was the first client to take interest, commission or purchase your work? Could you describe your first break?
Kagan: Marilyn Monroe was certainly one of my first, but I have had major art collectors, musicians, industrialists and heads of corporations.
PB: In our current online age, many people are under the impression that it's much easier to build a reputation and grow a brand virtually overnight. You have experience and have earned a following from a much different era. Over the years, how have you gone about connecting with clients, keeping them engaged with your work? What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?
Kagan: Honesty, sincerity, open mindedness, being responsive to clients changing needs. Never be dogmatic.
PB: There's a saying about talent and success that seems to apply to people working in almost every industry, art or craft:"Quality” always percolates to the top. Surely discipline and hard work must factor into the equation as well. With more than six decades devoted to your profession, what are your views on this?
Kagan: If you persevere you have a better chance to floating to the top. But it is always a combination of hard work and good luck.
PB: On the subject of handcrafted versus machine manufactured products - whether it be furniture or textiles - what are your thoughts on the 'Made by Hand' form of craftsmanship? Will this art soon be extinct?
Kagan: It must never die…it is the humanization, the hands-on touch, that makes life worthwhile. I detest modern technology. I hate my computer and my iPhone. But we must embrace them to live in a competitive world.
PB: Could you describe one of your most prized hand made possessions?
Kagan: All of the furniture in my apartment!
PB: What place in the world are you most drawn to?
Kagan: Switzerland – The Alps. They give me peace though they can be very scary at times.
PB: Having visited Mumbai, you're familiar with my father's designs - his textiles and prints. Could you give a brief testimonial about our work and what you find special about it?
Kagan: Your father is a genius because he captures the spirit of India but translates it into a usable contemporary media that is marketable to sophisticated clients around the world.
All photographs © www.vladimirkagan.com