In Memoriam Chris Collicott (1953-2016)
London-born, NYC based designer Christopher Vincent Collicott passed away March 14th 2016 in New York City after fighting prostate cancer for twelve years. It is sad for the design world to loose a designer who produced things so self-evidently charming, and with an unparalleled care for detail.
Early Career: model making, graphic artwork and paper sculpture
His creativity was apparent from the beginning, with the backyard plays utilizing handmade sets and costumes leading him to art school. After graduation he flew to Los Angeles, where he struggled to make a living fabricating sets for TV commercials, designing cartoon character t-shirts, and assisting on record covers for artists like Bryan Ferry and the Go-Gos. One day he took a bus to collect his wages when he didn’t have the fare to return home. Still, he never noticed that he was poor, He was doing what he loved, and he always said he never worked a day in his life.
He sold handmade pop-up greeting card as an art student, and late made paper lamps, paper sculpture for websites like Odwalla and Ben & Jerry’s and three limited-edition pop-up books now found in museum collections including Yale, UCLA, and the Smithsonian.
Work & Achievements
On August 20th, 1986, Chris Collicott was the first recipient for the Accent On Design Award from NY NOW. He was presented with the award for “Most Creative Use of Design” for his Wrench Bowl, a still bowl held up by 3 wrenches. This work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
He was also fabricating decorative tabletop items using surplus aircraft parts, which brought him press and won him awards. Animal-shaped drawer pulls were his first large-scale success, appearing not the cover of Metropolitan Home and making his phone ring off the hook.
Life in New York
In 1990, he moved to New York City and worked with Kikkerland Design, a company that sells clever and playful gifts to retailers around the world. He visited the offices on a monthly basis to show Kikkerland founder Jan van der Lande his latest invention. He always brought it in a brown paper bag, and whenever he appeared everyone wondered if it held yet another million-dollar-idea.
His move to New York ignited fixation with Machine Age design that resulted in the Pushing and Leaning Man bookends. He sold almost a hundred before he was introduced to Kikkerland, and in a few years they’d sell a thousand times that.
“Rockefeller Center in New York City has the most amazing machine-age details. I thought it would be interesting to bring a figure sculpted in that style into the home, providing I could give it a purpose. Supporting books creates a nice mix of tension and energy, form and function.” – Chris
One day Chris saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth with President Obama and his wife. The queen looked so small, he thought, it was like she could fit on a mantelpiece. He decided to make a queen who would. He labored for months without knowing if it would work. As he carved the bag, he began to wonder what she kept in it. He guessed that it might hold a power source to fuel her signature wave, and decided to incorporate that into his design. Since nothing remotely similar had been done before he wasn’t sure it was possible, but finally he got the regal motion tight. Kikkerland agreed to manufacture it, and together the discovered a huge new audience that appreciates his quirky point of view.
“Waving” Solar Queen; an iconic design and Calendar Box
Chris’ personal career highlight was that the British Royal Family really like his Solar Queens. Every member of the family has one. The Express reported that she keeps one of the Solar Queen statuettes on her desk in Windsor Castle. “The sun comes out and it goes ‘click, click, click’ and I see myself waving at me!” she told her cousin Lady Elizabeth Anson. As a result Chris and Jan van der Lande were invited to Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday celebration.
Working with Chris
Chris Collicott’s work came straight from his heart and his hands, and he was known for his personal touch. In the modern age of computerized efficiency 3D printing is frequently used to make prototypes, but Chris carved his by hand using whatever materials he could find. He noticed details even a computer couldn’t recognize. This always surprised younger designer who rely on the new technology. His designs prompted flurries of “how did you make this?” And his reply was always “By hand.” He eliminated the gray area between initial conception and final production. After his designs were approved, his prototypes were sent directly to the factory to be copied and mass-produced.
Nature of Chris
Chris was a gentle man with a a warm personality and a great sense of humor. Jan recalls many conversations looking about the seriousness of design, life and business. Though he suffered from a typical British timidity, he loved meeting people and his curios eye had him interested in almost everything. He meshed well with Kikkerland, understanding and reinforcing the company’s sensibilities. Chris and Jan frequently discussed modern design and guessed about future trends.
Jan recalls, “One day we were discussing the fact that gardening is the number-one hobby in the USA. The next month he came in with a new product called ‘The Idyllic Garden’, a miniature DIY English garden with 100 miniature bricks, 2 Victorian-style pots, and a bag of gravel. We supplied the grass seeds to go with it.”
Chris realized at an early age that he had a passion for design. He observed everyday life with a critical eye and immersed himself in the market. Kevin Brynan, a close friend and gift retail veteran based in NYC described them both as design comrades, always questioning what to do next. As a product designer it is imperative to connect with and understand the retailer, so Chris took advantage of Kevin’s extensive store experience while Kevin appreciated Chris’ unique vision.
Chris and Kevin in front of the Kikkerland shop
Chris kept fighting and smiling through his twelve-year battle with prostate cancer, though ti robbed him of his strength, his dignity, and finally his beloved beard. He refused a deathbed, passing away twelve hours after going out for a cappuccinno. He died with his head still full of inventions, and hopefully a few will hit store shelves. But while he may have physically left us, his spirit remains. It’s in our heads and in our hearts, and it’s waving at us from thousand of cars and desks and windows, making Queens and commoners and grandmas all over the world smile millions of time a day.
Chris is survived by his sister, Linda Moore, his nephews Jack and James Moore and his partner of 31 years, Robert Neu.