Source Material

27th February 2019

Tibor Reich’s colourful fabric designs graced palaces, stately homes and the original Concorde cabin. Emma O’Kelly meets his grandson Sam, who is reviving the midcentury maestro’s textiles brand, Tibor.

Words by Emma O'Kelly

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“When I told people I was setting up a woven textiles brand in the UK, they thought I was bonkers,” says Sam Reich. “There are so few weavers and you need huge capital to develop the yarns.” Reich did, however, have something of a head-start: by his early twenties he had founded and sold a start-up, and his grandfather was midcentury textile maestro Tibor Reich.

Wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, 26-year-old Reich junior cuts a considerably less flamboyant figure than his grandfather, a Hungarian Jewish émigré who loved bespoke suits and large cigars. Tibor Reich fled art school in Vienna in 1937 and enrolled at Leeds University to study textile technology. The son of a Budapest textile manufacturer, he had grown up surrounded by swatches, and in 1946, opened his first mill in Stratford-upon-Avon. His colour-soaked designs – referencing the folklore of his native Hungary, the trees and stone walls of his adopted Britain, and the avant-garde brushstrokes of the Bauhaus – brought a fresh vibrancy to post-war interiors, and before long he was creating couture weaves for fashion houses such as Hardy Amies and Molyneux and furnishing fabrics for palaces and stately homes. In 1947, the Queen turned to Tibor, as his company was – and is – named, for a woollen fabric for her curtains. 

When I told people I was setting up a woven textiles brand in the UK, they thought I was bonkers.

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“My grandfather was fascinated with architecture – he really appreciated space,” says Reich. “I think to create a successful textile you have to imagine the whole space,” he adds, turning to photos of the interiors of Concorde in the 2016 monograph, Tibor Reich: Art of Colour & Texture . Reich created the airliner’s original interior scheme in 1966, with a purple carpet fading to pink at the rear and seats in either pink, purple, green or orange. He also loved cars, and the 20,000 model cars he and his sons collected are now at Coventry Transport Museum.  He may not dress like his grandfather, but Sam Reich shares the same obsession with craftsmanship, tradition and quality. All Tibor fabrics are still made in the UK, in what is a painstaking manufacturing process. Yarns imported from South America and Australia to the Yorkshire mill are re-spun to create bespoke shapes and textures before going to Scotland to be dyed then brought back to Yorkshire to be twisted and finished. They then wind up in the Tibor storage in Keighley.  

Tibor loved Italian design, its flair and boldness and fabulous use of colour

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 Reich died in 1996, aged 80. His last collection was produced in 1977, and in the decades that followed, his natural fibres and colourful palette were eclipsed by synthetic fibres and muted shades. Despite warnings from his father not to open the Pandora’s box that had been the family business, when he unearthed thousands of sample books gathering dust in a storage space in Leamington Spa, Sam felt compelled to act. “I would look at fabulous swatches of tweeds from the 1930s, and the boucléd and looped fabrics that my grandfather brought from fashion to furnishing fabrics, and I saw so many starting points.” 

His plans include collaborating with big-name designers to rework couture designs into furnishing fabrics and curtains, and to release one new collection a year. With 30,000 archived designs at his fingertips, Reich is developing new textured weaves with soft wools from the Falklands, South America and Australia in which to use them. Each year he launches a new tapestry, and last year’s, California , was used by Italian designer Achille Salvagni to reupholster a vintage Gio Ponti sofa.

It may be small, but Tibor has as a cult following. Interior designers Peter Marino and Sella Concept are also fans, along with pioneering Milan gallerist Nina Yashar, who upholstered the walls of her gallery Nilufar in Tibor’s bestselling Cymbeline. And at White City House, the latest Soho House in the former BBC Television Centre, barstools are upholstered in Tibor’s Raw Coral.

“Tibor loved Italian design, its flair and boldness and fabulous use of colour,” says Reich. In 1956, his grandfather’s screen-printed cotton prints Gondola , Sunburst and Palermo formed part of a “Mediterranean Look” exhibition at Peter Jones department store. It was one of many joyful, cosmopolitan shows he held, his mission being to bring some life to the “fusty, brown, dark and boring” British palette. He was also a keen ceramicist, photographer, painter and furniture designer, who sat at the top table of British modernism, alongside Robin and Lucienne Day, Ernest Race and Lucian Ercolani. Step by step, Sam Reich is leading him back there. tibor.co.uk

This article is taken from the Winter 18-19 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

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