A distinctive eye for colour and a desire to give his textiles three-dimensional texture set this Hungarian-born designer on a unique path to success
Like many of the men and women whose stories have been told here in Design Archives, Tibor Reich had an unwavering drive to succeed. Riches and notoriety were of no interest to him. His passion, instead, was his work – the pursuit and development of his craft.
Born in Hungary in the middle of the First World War, Tibor knew from a very early age that his calling was a creative one. He was eager to become an architect and drew prolifically as a child. He was from an affluent Jewish family of industrialists; his father owned a textiles factory that produced ribbons and yarns for the country’s military uniforms, while his mother was from a family of successful restaurateurs. Hard graft was in his genes.
The young Tibor’s father was adamant that his son should learn the family business, so he was taught the art of cotton-spinning on the factory floor in Budapest. He later left for Vienna, where he began studying textiles and took a course in architecture and design. Here, aged 18, he was exposed to an exciting, progressive city that introduced him to the Bauhaus movement; this would prove to be an enduring influence that infused his work with a distinctive European modernity.
With the rise of the Nazis, Tibor knew that it was too dangerous for him to remain in Austria; he left for Britain in 1937, and settled in Leeds. The city’s university was regarded at that time as the world’s leading centre for textile design, innovation and technology. It was the perfect environment for the young man, a place where he could hone his art and experiment with new techniques and ideas.
Tibor’s view of the world was somewhat different to that of others, not least because of a degenerative eye condition that he had suffered from since early childhood. But this did not stop him. Ever since his father had given him his first camera at the age of 12, he rarely ventured out without one. He would take pictures of everything: close-ups of natural surfaces like the bark of a tree or the remnants of a muddy puddle. He saw patterns – and design potential – in all sorts of places. Colour was important in his work, too. In a reference to the bold hues he worked with as a young boy in his father’s factory making the ribbons and trimmings of his country’s national dress, Tibor would work bright notes of colour into his creations. His early desire become an architect never went away, and a 3D approach to pattern was always present in his work.
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 193-196, issue 106.
Words Catherine Coyle
Photography courtesy of Tibor Ltd