Tibor Reich is a man forever associated with texture
When the Council of Industrial Design announced its Designs of the Year in 1957, the textile award went to a striking screen-printed furnishing fabric called Flamingo, designed by Tibor Reich (1916-1996). A dynamic textural pattern of vertical stripes, it melded the vitality of Abstract Expressionism with the rigorous geometry of Modernist architecture.
Reich had moved to the UK in 1937 after leaving his native Hungary to escape mounting anti-Semitism. As with many Jewish émigrés, Europe’s cultural loss was Britain’s creative gain. The son of a Budapest textile manufacturer, Reich was keen to pursue a career as a designer. After studying textile technology at Leeds University, he began selling his designs to leading fashion houses, including Edward Molyneux and Digby Morton, before taking the bold step of establishing his own firm, Tibor Ltd, in 1946.
Based at Clifford Mill, a few miles outside Stratford-upon-Avon, the company began as a small weaving studio but rapidly expanded, employing as many as 80 weavers during the 1950s. Initially the cloth was woven on handlooms, but power looms were later installed. The unusual choice of location away from the textile heartlands of Lancashire and Yorkshire signified Reich’s desire to strike out in new directions, both creatively and commercially.
The mill was partly owned and financed by the large textile firm R. Greg & Co., who specialised in ‘fancy yarns’ (irregularly spun yarns with unusual textures). The innovative fabrics that Reich created using these yarns ensured that Tibor Ltd quickly established itself as one of the most progressive textile firms in the country.
Tibor’s Deep Textured Weaves were woven on dobby looms. For its patterned weaves – marketed as Texturedrapes – the firm used jacquard looms. One of Reich’s most memorable early designs, Movemento (1954), featured wavy, criss-crossing blade-shaped motifs. Woven from a mixture of cotton and a new synthetic yarn called Ardil, it was praised by Michael Farr in Design magazine for its ‘sensuous, tactile quality… perhaps best described as the third dimension, coupled with a suggestion of the purely visual interest to be derived from pattern’.
Ardil, which was made from peanut fibre, had recently been developed by ICI. In 1953 ICI had commissioned Tibor to create a textile hanging called History of Shapes. The fabric was unusual, being jacquard woven, with additional motifs screen-printed on the surface of the cloth. In 1954 Tibor launched a collection of screen-printed furnishing fabrics, known as Textureprints, to complement its Texturedrapes.
Like its competitor Edinburgh Weavers, Tibor was unusual in producing both printed and woven fabrics, as most manufacturers normally specialised in one field or the other. One of the first Textureprints was a bold abstract pattern called Raw Coral (1954), composed of large, overlapping organic forms. The award-winning Flamingo, which was part of the groundbreaking Fotexur collection, followed in 1957.
As the name Fotexur suggests, textural effects were once again the defining feature of this collection. The ‘Fo’ referred to photography, a key technique in the multi-stage process used to create these designs. The patterns were derived from close-up photographs of textural materials, such as bark, stone, cracked earth or straw. A section of the image was enlarged to create an abstract pattern, which was then screen-printed on paper and cut up into strips or squares.
The textile design was created by arranging these pieces in various formations. As Reich observed: ‘The purpose of pattern in printed textiles should be expression of flow and rhythm, which will move sympathetically with its surroundings, distribution of colour areas, and to give visual pleasure and tranquillity on the one hand, and interest and thrill on the other.’
Hungarian émigrés were renowned for their entrepreneurialism and Tibor Reich was no exception. Adopting a proactive approach to marketing, he collaborated with like-minded manufacturers in related fields, such as carpets, furniture and ceramics, to create highly original, coordinated furnishing schemes that were advertised jointly in magazines. As well as catering to the needs of domestic consumers, who were receptive to ‘contemporary’ furnishings following a decade of enforced austerity, Tibor astutely targeted the contract market, especially hotels, ships and airlines. One of the firm’s most significant areas of production was upholstery fabrics, with customised ranges being developed for leading furniture manufacturers such as Ercol, G-Plan and HK Furniture.
Tibor also undertook high-profile commissions such as the refurbishment of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. This project, for which a whole new collection of fabrics was specially developed, was completed in 1951. ‘It is very seldom that so much thought and care have been put into the soft furnishings of a public building,’ observed The Cabinet Maker. ‘The chief characteristic of all these fabrics is their simplicity of style, together with the skilful blending of unusual colour combinations. The accent is on texture, brought about by clever use of high-grade plain and fancy yarns.’ Whenever the name Tibor was mentioned, the word texture was sure to follow.
Tibor Reich is at The Whitworth, Manchester, 29 January to 28 August 2016.