Chairman Rolf Fehlbaum

Posted April 2, 2014

When Rolf Fehlbaum, (then) head of Vitra, the European manufacturer of Eames furniture, was awarded a prestigious German Design prize, legendary designer Tibor Kalman created this remarkable book about him.

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“Measuring just 5 by 6 inches, this little red book by graphic designer Tibor Kalman-a riff on Chairman Mao’s book of quotations-packs into its lively pages the wit and wisdom of a true Chair Man. He is Rolf Fehlbaum, CEO of Vitra, which produces chairs by some of the world’s greatest designers. The book consists of just a handful of words and 650 amusing photographs. One section is on Fehlbaum’s collection of modern furniture classics. Appropriately enough, ‘Chairman’ is itself designed to be a collectable.” – House Beautiful

“Most prize winners get weighty medals. Recipients of Germany’s Federal Award for Design Leadership get weighty books–peans to their careers, written by a designer the winner chooses. The 1997 winner Rolf Fehlbaum, chief executive of Vitra, a Swiss furniture design company, asked Tibor Kalman, a Manhattan graphic designer, to tell his life story–and famed chair obsession.” — Elaine Louie, New York Times Currents, Feb 19, 1998

“Most prize winners get weighty metals. Recipients of Germany’s Federal Award for Design Leadership get weighty books-paeans to their careers, written by a designer the winner chooses. The 1997 winner, Rolf Fehlbaum, chief executive of Vitra, a Swiss furniture company, asked Tibor Kalman, a Manhattan graphic designer, to tell his life story-and famed chair obsession.” — New York Times

‘He’s the greatest client in the world. I think any designer who has ever worked with him will say that.’ Such effusive praise, in this case from New York designer Tibor Kalman, would probably embarrass Rolf Fehlbaum, the modest, soft-spoken CEO of Vitra. But it’s hard not to describe Vitra and the man who runs it with anything less than strong admiration: this is a company that has likely fused commerce and culture more seamlessly than any other in the world. It’s not only that Fehlbaum channeled his passion for collecting design into one of the few great museums devoted exclusively to the subject. And it isn’t just that he’s commissioned a series of edgy architects–Frank Gehry, Nicholas Grimshaw, Tadao Ando, and Zaha Hadid–to build his company’s facilities. And it’s not simply that Vitra has pushed the design of workplace products to a high level of technological and formal innovation. It’s the collavoration with the designers that’s so rare. ‘All my relationships with designers are emotional ones; it’s as if every project has a mother and father,’ says Fehlbaum, offering a touch of Freudian insight.” –Chee Pearlman, I.D. Magazine, Jan/Feb 1998

 

1997 | Lars Muller Publishers | Essay by Tibor Kalman | 5 x 6 inches | 450 color, 20 black and white illustrations