OBITUARY : Tibor Reich
Friday 16 February 1996
Born in Hungary in 1916, Reich was the son of a Budapest manufacturer of woven braids, as used by the military, and ribbons, as used in peasant costume. Encouraged by his father, he drew and painted prodigiously as a child, and later began a preliminary training in architecture; he followed this by studying textile design and technology in Europe and England.
Writing in 1957, he attributed his greatest influences to the colours and metallic decoration in Hungarian braids and his education in Vienna in the 1930s which, he said, was "greatly influenced by the Bauhaus and its simple, straightforward thinking of a linear character". He also cited his further education at Leeds University in the late 1930s. Here - as a willing student reluctantly fleeing from the spread of Nazism in Europe - he found the facilities for research into textile technology which later enabled him to realise his ideas.
Reich's first and only job was as a designer for Tootals, the textile producers, which he held before setting up his own business in the 19th- century Clifford Mill in Stratford in 1945. In order to begin weaving he had first to convert the five broken-down hand-looms to the jacquard and the dobby weaving processes. With these, but with very little choice of yarns due to wartime shortages, the mill wove furnishing fabrics to Reich's own design with a marked preference for deeply textured surfaces. As early as 1948 the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired a group of his fabrics employing wool, rayon and cotton fancy yarns in abstract patterns described as "diaper" and "zig-zag", exhibiting all the hallmarks of modernism.
In the 1950s Reich widened his activities to include printed fabrics. He did the experimental work himself at Clifford Mill, and had the yardage printed in Scotland. A design for printed cotton from 1957 called "Flamingo" featured textures derived from photographic enlargement of organic material such as leaves. Produced in single colours with a dominant black skeletal image, it won a Design Centre award. This "texture print" led to the "Fotextur" range which featured in a Design Centre exhibition in 1960.
The idea behind the range, to create a set of curtains containing two or more colourways (colour printings) of a certain pattern, was probably too advanced for the consumer. It comprised designs in very large repeat based once again on Tibor Reich's photographic sources, in this case atomic structures. A pattern was produced in 14 colourways and each one included four tones of that colour, for added richness. Alternating lengths of two of these were then hung and used "like a paintbox", blending elements in any given interior, or used to create "moods" by expanding the spread of one or other coloured curtain.
Most of Reich's work, however, was commissioned direct for specific interiors or ranges of furniture. In 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, he produced furnishings, "tapestry" wall-hangings and carpets - each named after a Shakespearean character - for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Also in Stratford, he helped to furnish the Shakespeare Centre for its opening in 1964 and designed souvenirs for the centre, some of which are still produced today.
In the 1960s "Tibor" fabrics were in demand in Britain and abroad; the firm opened a showroom in Sloane Street in London, which moved later to Berners Street. The fabrics were used in Lotus cars, in cruise liners, on Concorde and for the Royal Yacht Britannia and the library at Windsor Castle. The name was linked with the furniture manufacturers G-Plan, Ercol and Gordon Russell, and with Russell Furnishing. For Gordon Russell, of Broadway, Worcestershire, Reich produced all-wool coverings that were superbly hard-wearing for domestic, office and contract ranges. They were used for items from classic dining chairs to "low seating" in vibrant colours for halls of residence in the new universities. Reich was awarded the prestigious Textile Institute's design medal in 1973.
He was active in other fields of design throughout his career, producing a series of black and white pottery designs called "Tigo" for Denby in the 1950s and several for carpets. These included his "marble" pattern for Wilton, an abstract expressionist design for I. & C. Steele and Co of Banbury and others for Stockwell Carpets. In the 1970s and 1980s he produced greetings cards based on drawn and photographic images, and recently, in collaboration with his son Alex Reich, he designed a first-day cover to commemorate the opening of the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London; commissioned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, it was one of many he did for them.
In 1978 Tibor Reich closed the textile business which he had run, assisted by his wife Freda, for 33 years. The workforce had grown from half a dozen in 1945 to 80, most of them trained in the firm. His attention switched instead to his model car and transport collection, formed after the birth of his first son, Anthony, in 1948.
The collection, in excess of 25,000 items at the last count, was built up on business trips to foreign cities where he would scour backstreet toyshops for dusty specimens. The cars, buses, boats, planes and trains - by famous names such as Dinky, Matchbox and Corgi as well as by little- known makers - were acquired for the way they represented progressive design and engineering, rather than for the sake of owning every model in a series.
The collection was put on public view in Tiatsa, Reich's private museum in Stratford which ran from 1963 to 1984. After it closed, a substantial part was put on show at the London Toy and Model Museum, Craven Hill, until 1989. A new home was found for the entire collection at the Museum of British Road Transport, Coventry, in 1992, for which Tibor Reich prepared a detailed computerised catalogue.
His two sons, Alex Reich - a graphic designer at The Crew in London - and Tony Reich of Reich + Petch Design International in Toronto, designers of museums and exhibitions - carry his mantle.
Tibor Reich, textile designer: born Budapest, Hungary 1 October 1916; married 1943 Freda Caplan (two sons, two daughters); died Warwick 3 February 1996.
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