Visionary designer Vladimir Kagan always looked to the future. From his early work in the late 1940s until well into his eighth decade, Kagan was continually creating, refining, evolving. In that spirit, Chris Eitel, Kagan’s protégé and now director of design and production for the brand, debuts the Forward Collection, the first set of entirely new pieces from the house since its iconic founder’s passing in 2016. Undoubtedly Kagan-esque, but imbued with a new spirit of ease and livability, the collection comprises seven designs by Eitel, including the Big Picture sofa, a dynamic, cantilevered, crescent-shaped sofa; and the Bienenstock coffee table, a sculptural Lucite piece inset with a floating storage box.
The Sculpted Wood loveseat (open back) and Sculpted Wood bench.
“Vladi’s whole approach was just different,” says Eitel. “He’d always wanted to be an artist, and felt he could really explore that through the realm of sculptural art furniture.” Adds Mark Minichiello, the company’s COO, “Vladi’s designs were always more artistic than industrial. He cared less about what was going on in the design world—the big names focused on mass production—and used nature as inspiration. In doing so, he set a higher level for the consumer early on.” High-profile collectors include Tom Ford and Zaha Hadid, both of whom contributed to the book Vladimir Kagan: A Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design, newly reissued earlier this year.
Eitel and Kagan in the studio
Eitel began his tenure at Kagan in 2013 as an intern, which led to an apprenticeship and his joining the studio full-time in 2014. Kagan worked closely with Eitel in the workshop, transmitting legacy knowledge of concept and craft. Eitel, in turn, helped the designer adapt production to new technologies, with Kagan sketching ideas and Eitel translating them into orthographic drawings and then 3D-printed models. They undertook projects with Ralph Pucci and Carpenters Workshop Gallery—the studio was buzzing—but it was the death of Hadid, a longtime friend of Kagan’s, in the spring of 2016 that made the designer think about his legacy and what he hoped the future might hold for his studio. One week to the day after Hadid’s passing, Kagan, too, was gone.
Eitel was the natural successor, and became the company’s director of design and production. In fall 2016, Vladimir Kagan Design was purchased by Holly Hunt, who encouraged Eitel to stay the course on projects already in development, but also to create new designs of his own. Since then, Eitel has honed a vision that stays true to his mentor’s ethos, noting, “He taught me to stay forward-thinking, and that’s how he wanted this portfolio to grow. I can see the work we did together through a different lens now, and these new pieces tell my story with Vladi.”