Furniture and interior designer Vladimir Kagan was born in Worms, Germany in 1927. He came to the United States as a boy in 1938. He studied architecture at Columbia University before going on to join the New York-based woodworking shop of his father, master cabinetmaker and art collector Illi Kagan. He learned furniture making there, and opened his own shop on New York’s East 65th Street in 1947. Between 1950 and 1960, Kagan partnered with textile designer and printer Hugo Dreyfuss; together, they were able to move the shop to a more fashionable location on 57th Street in 1950. In 1960, Dreyfuss retired and Kagan reopened as a trade-only showroom at 81st Street and East End Avenue. In 1957, he married needlepoint designer Erica Wilson (British, 1928-2011); together, they had three children. In 1970, Kagan moved his factory to Long Island City and opened a showroom on East 59th Street in Manhattan.
Kagan’s decidedly modern, sculptural furniture found quick success. Notable projects include the Delegate's Cocktail Lounges for the first United Nations Headquarters in Lake Success, New York (1947-48); the curvaceous Serpentine Sofa (1949); and the iconic Omnibus seating collection (c. 1970), among others.
In 1988, Kagan retired, though just temporarily. Between 1990 and 1992, he served as president of the New York chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Between 1990 and 2000, he licensed some of his designs to domestic and international manufacturers. In 1998, Kagan reintroduced some of his classic designs at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York, thus formally relaunching his career. In 2003, Kagan reintroduced his Classic Collection at the Ralph Pucci showrooms in Los Angeles and New York; this collection features limited edition, new versions of Kagan’s earlier designs. In 2008, he launched the Vladimir Kagan Couture Collection, which includes a selection of designs from the fifties to the 21st century. And in 2015, Kagan designed a collection of limited-edition art furniture for Carpenters Workshop.
The designer’s work is included in numerous private and public collections, including the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Die Neue Sammlung in Munich; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among others. In 1980, New York's Fashion Institute of Technology honored Kagan with a thirty-year retrospective exhibit: Vladimir Kagan: Three Decades of Design. Other honors include the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the 2001 Pinnacle Award from the American Society of Furniture Designers; and the 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Furniture Designers.
Kagan passed away at the age of 88 in his home in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 7, 2016.