K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Jul 27 2010

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In the shadow of giants

A few months back, a kitchen I designed for Bazzèo was awarded the GOLD medal for “Innovation in Design” from the British publication Designer. Shortly after the announcement, I received an invitation from Cisco Brothers to be a special guest at a dinner they were hosting for the Sustainable Furniture Council during the High Point Show. I was honored to be recognized and for the opportunity to represent Bazzèo.

KaganWhen I arrived at the venue for the evening’s event, I was informed by the press assistant for Cisco Brothers that the other guest of honor was Vladimir Kagan, the iconic, mid-century furniture designer that I have idolized since my youth. And then, like a ton of bricks, the immensity of the evening struck me full force.  Who was I to share the spotlight with a GOD?  What would I say, how would I act?  How do you speak with giants?  For the first time in my adult life…I had sweaty palms.

About an hour before the dinner, the atmosphere changed. You could feel it in the air. The very atmosphere was alive with noise: ”he’s here…he’s here!”  And there he was, with two canes and an assistant to help him up the stairs. It was hard at first to see the young, handsome man from the photographs in the Sixties that I had grown up with, but then, there they were—that classic Kagan smile and that glint in his eye as he surveyed the room. Shortly thereafter, Vladimir and I were introduced and we sat down to have a drink before the evenings event was to begin.

“So young man,” he began and though I am in my late fifties, I was feeling all of nine years as he spoke to me. “What do you do”

“I am a designer,” I said.

”That’s wonderful…me too” he said.

I spent the evening listening to his life story—from his boyhood in pre-war Germany to his arrival in 1938 in the U.S.—and his early love for architecture, as well as his passion for design. At no point in the conversation did his 83 years of life seem to weigh upon him. His voice, his eyes, the excitement in sharing thoughts and ideas was that of a young man, full of “piss and vinegar” and ready to take on the world.

He shared with me that he was a paradox in his life. On one hand he had just released a new book on his life and works and on the other he was just about to unveil a new collection for Pucci in New York. Here he was at an age when most—if not all—of his contemporizes were either retired or dead, and he was still creating new products for a new generation.

As a practitioner of sustainable design, I asked Vladimir his thoughts in this regard. He become very serious and quiet as he thought. After a minute or so, he said, ”You wont like this, but my new collection for Pucci has a fiberglass foundation…not very green.” In almost the same breath he went on to say, “Sustainability is more than materials; it is about longevity, but mostly it is about design. If something is designed well, it will be kept and used for years, if not generations.”

As he left the dinner for another party, I reflected on the evening and felt a little starstruck and very pleased that my boyhood adoration for my hero had not been diminished by meeting him. As we stood together for a press photo, he shook my hand and said to me as turned to leave, “Keep designing.” As I released his hand, I realized that giants are very real and they still walk amongst us.—Kevin Henry

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