James Irvine 1958-2013

We once started, but never quite got round to finishing, a post in which we extolled the joys of a dank, snowy day in Leipzig – because it meant we had an excuse to leave our bikes at home and use the James Irvine designed Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses that flow through the city.

And on such a dank, snowy day we learn the very sad news of James Irvine’s untimely death.

Born in London Jame Irvine studied at Kingston Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art London before moving to Milan in 1984. In his first years in Milan he worked for Olivetti under the guidance of Michele De Lucchi and Ettore Sottsass before in 1988 he opened his own design studio in the Lombardian capital.

As such Irvine belongs to the core of that generation of European product designers who not only started with classic industrial design à la Dieter Rams before moving on to furniture; but who also knew Milan when it truly was the creative heart of Europe, truly was a city from which great things came and truly was a city that anyone with an interest in quality design had to visit. A combination that was greatly influence James Irvine’s work over the decades. And was the reason Milan was to become his adoptive home.

Among the first projects James Irvine took on after establishing his own studio was the coordination of Ettore Sottsass, Michele de Lucchi and Andrea Branzi’s “Citizen Office” research for and with Vitra. Research that in many ways has defined Vitra’s approach to office furniture ever since. James Irvine was also responsible for the design of the catalogue for the accompanying Vitra Design Museum exhibition.

As a designer James Irvine established a portfolio of products with international manufacturers as varied as Cappellini, SCP, Artemide, WMF, Miuji or Magis; in addition James Irvine taught at various colleges and worked as a consultant with Thonet – largely responsible for deciding which products from the Thonet archive should be re-released. And more importantly, how they should be re-re-released.

James Irvine passed away at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital Milan in the early hours of February 18th 2013. He was just 54.

We had the privilege to met James Irvine on a couple of occasions and he was always the most charming, eloquent and patient of conversation partners. And somehow we hope we remember him more for his person than his portfolio.

And the buses? Thanks to the vagaries of the LVB press department we never did get round to finding out why James Irvine buses are in Leipzig.

We’re just thankful that they are. Today more than ever.

James Irvine

James Irvine 1958-2013


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