Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Art of Jenny Kee
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Jenny Kee was born in Sydney in 1947 with an unusual Australian mixed heritage for those times - her mother was of Anglo-Saxon and Italian decent and her father was Chinese. In 2012 such a melded heritage in Australia is far more commonplace. She wrote her autobiography – A Big Life[1] - in 2006.

Jenny grew up in Bondi (Sydney) with a younger sister, Lizzie, and an older brother, Anthony. In the 1950s she attended Bondi Beach Public School. Jenny started doing a dress designing course at East Sydney Technical School in 1963 [2]: “… 'cause that's what I wanted to be - a [fashion] designer” . She was in reality doing a dress making course (practice only) rather than a dress-designing course (concept put into practice) and so she only lasted a year. Moreover, she wanted to be in the midst of a youth scene rather than be with dress makers.

Jenny Kee.
Courtesy of reference[2].

1964 was a seminal year for most Australian teenagers in the 60s. The Beatles had captivated the world in the early 60s – with their music, their humor and their art. In 1964 they had not reached the zenith of their musicality or influence, but because of Australian music promoter Kenn Brodziak's foresight, the Beatles were contracted to give numerous concerts in Australia on the cusp of their rise to fame.

Jenny was determined to meet them, which resulted in one night with John Lennon that changed her life forever. Jenny travelled to England and worked at Biba, which was “the” boutique in London at that time.

In London, Jenny discovered the Chelsea Antique Market that later she viewed as: “…my university of fashion and life”. Her life in London reflected the times since [3]: “For the first few years I was very fuelled with a lot of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and pop stars coming out of every corner. So, from that heavy sort of, pop world, and sort of, being very wild sexually, I just had enough at a certain point and I just wanted to meet someone and fall in love”. Jenny met Michael, an Australian artist. For the first time, she felt genuinely adored and loved and so started developing self-confidence.

By the early 70s, London was no longer the youth vanguard in music, fashion and the arts. San Francisco had arrested the attention and life style of the youth. The Italian fashion houses were imbued with a new wave of designers that etched out future directions that stemmed from the youth revolution. The arts were once again dominated by New York. In 1973 Jenny Kee and her husband returned to Australia. At this time a new exciting and optimistic political framework was in play, and so they stayed. Six months later she opened a shop, Flamingo Park, which modelled itself on the vintage and retro fashion experience she had in London. Just before she opened Flamingo Park, Jenny met Linda Jackson - another turning point in her life[3]. Her friendship with Linda bought her back to the roots of her passion, namely wearable art.

Jenny Kee had always been conscious of wearable art. Her mother bought her Charles Jourdan shoes when she was 12-13 years old. Both would often roam all over Sydney, finding clothes or the fabrics that Jenny Kee wanted [2]. She had a dressmaker, who made clothes to her own designs[2]. Jenny also came from a background of fashion since her Aunt - Una - had worked for Madame Pellier, making silk blouses in the 1920s that were selling for 100 pounds (the Australian currency at the time)[3].

Jenny Kee's mentor was Vern Lambert from Melbourne (Australia), who had no formal fashion training, but was as knowledgeable as any professor of fashion. He taught her the detail of how something was stitched - why it might have been so in the context of its era[3]. Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee travelled to Milan, New York and the Paris fashion houses[2]. She was the first Sydney-sider to ever be in “Italian Vogue”[2].

As her husband was leaving Australia, another turning point occurred in her life – Jenny met Danton Hughes (his father was Robert Hughes - an Australian who worked in New York as an art critic). A passionate relationship lasted eleven years with Danton - until his untimely death[2]. He was for her a most creative designer.

Australia has so little moisture in its atmosphere that UV light is not effectively mitigated, resulting in clear, sharp, brash colors and images that are embedded in its soil (red ochre), burnt into its grass (yellow greens), radiated from its atmosphere (deep blues), and stitched in the memories of its people. Consequently, Jenny Kee's designs are quintessential Australian with motifs such as native animals (e.g. koalas), native plants (e.g. waratahs and black boys), and gem stones such as opals. She was also influenced by its first peoples - the Australian Aboriginals and their heritage, that fills this land of ours.

Jenny Kee's colors reflect the physical and psychological landscapes of its peoples. Her colors are bold and vibrant, reflecting the freshness and vibrancy of a newly awakening continent that is boldly striving forward, unaware of past shackles, unaware of structured or forced or unnatural boundaries. Her color palette is often compared to Australian artists Ken Done, but actually it reflects her own melded Australian heritage and her world-wide experiences.

Jenny Kee's sweaters were worn by Lady (and then Princess) Di, Barry Humphries, and Olivia Newton-John (just to name a few!)[3] Her opal prints arrested international attention, where it caught the attention of Italian "Vogue" and also Karl Lagerfeld. The opal print went into "Vanity" magazine. Lagerfeld saw it there, and then he said, "That will be my print" for the first designer range that he was doing with Chanel. The latter had 64 of her garments coming down his cat walk[3].

Jenny's designs are world-renowned, exhibited at such places as the Art Gallery of NSW, the Australian National Gallery, Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, London's Victoria and Albert Museum and the Marimura Museum in Tokyo.

The Wearable Art Of Jenny Kee

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[4].

Courtesy of reference[5].

Courtesy of reference[5].

Courtesy of reference[5].

Courtesy of reference[5].

[1] Jenny Kee, A Big Life, Latern, Sydney (2006). ISBN 192098934X.

[2] "Talking Heads" (ABC programme).

[3] "Sunday Arts" (ABC programme).

[4] Australian Fashion Design, Elina Mackay Design Pty. Ltd., McMahons Point, Sydney (1985). ISBN 0949708 17 8.

[5] The Great Aussie Fashion, Kevin Weldon and Elina Mackay, McMahons Point Sydney (1984) ISBN 0 949708 11 9.

1 comment:

Angela Navejas said...

Thanks for sharing your delicate experience with us. Your description is really very nice and informative. I hope you will share some more experiences and knowledge with us and please keep sharing.

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