98/180/1, 99/6/1 Jenny Kee collection of clothing, textiles, artwork and archive, Australia/England/Japan/Africa/USA 1967-1995
Jenny Kee (born Sydney 1947) is one of Australia's most important designers, best known for designing and retailing a unique range of colourful clothing and knitwear. One major theme links all aspects of this collection, Jenny Kee's love of Australia's unique natural environment. Her garments are a canvas for her artwork featuring images of native flora and fauna, the opal gem stone and urban icons like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
The Jenny Kee collection and archive was acquired by the museum in 1998 and 1999. They document the evolution of her clothing and textile designs, the creative process behind her designs, the development and management of her retail outlets Flamingo Park and Jenny Kee, the significant role she played in environmental activism in Australia and her public profile as a celebrity artist within the advertising industry.
The collection and archive document her life and work over twenty years and includes clothing and textiles by Jenny Kee and Kee's business and creative partner Linda Jackson (b. 1950) as well as original artwork for many of Kee's designs, business records, newspaper and magazine clippings, videos of parades, parade invitations, props and programmes, shop mannequins, shop signs, scrapbooks and posters.
The collection and archive not only records Jenny Kee's life and work, but also can be read as a document that charts important cultural changes in Australia. Kee was born in Bondi, to a Cantonese businessman father and Italian/British mother. An early newspaper clipping shows her modelling as the face of Canadian Airlines. In the 1960s, she, like many other young Australians, spent several years enjoying the creative atmosphere of 'Swinging London'. She returned to Australia in the early 1970s and attracted by the encouraging cultural climate of the new Whitlam led Labor government, decided to stay. Kee then opened her Flamingo Park' 'frock salon' in the Strand Arcade in Sydney selling her own designs as well as the work of other innovative designers like Linda Jackson, Peter Tully (1947-1992) and David McDiarmid (1952-1995). Many of the pieces sold through the shop are included in the collection as well as signage, programmes and videos of the lively parades she and Linda Jackson produced.
The collection preserves a unique record of this important designer's personal and professional career from the 1960s through to 1995.
A7527 Outfit comprising knitted dress and coat featuring Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House motifs, two of Australia's best-known urban icons, designed by Jenny Kee and knitted by Jan Ayres in 1980.
99/6/54 Scarf, 'Goddesses', silk, designed by Jenny Kee printed by Rainbow Fabrics in Italy, 1990. The Jenny Kee collection includes the artwork for this scarf which shows the way Kee worked by creating a series of small individual drawings or paintings which are then collaged into larger stories for printing or knitting into her designs.
92/395 Poster depicting beach ensemble, 'Waratah and black boys', designed by Jenny Kee. The poster by Oblique Design, London features a photograph by Monty Coles. It was produced for a travelling exhibition of Australian fashion entitled 'Australian Fashion: the contemporary art' devised by the Powerhouse Museum.
'Waratah and black boy' draws on Kee's familiarity with the Australian bush and the spiritual connection she feels with its cycles. For over twenty years she has lived and worked surrounded by native bushland in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. She watched as bushfires left her surroundings blackened and devastated only to see within a few months green shoots, leaves and flowers emerging. Kee's design drew inspiration from this scene of destruction and regeneration with the black boys and waratah's emerging even more spectacular and abundant after their ordeal.
99/6/80 Textile length, 'Large black opal', designed by Jenny Kee, printed by Rainbow Fabrics in Italy, 1981.
This dramatic design was created by tearing paintings into small pieces which were then rearranged and pasted onto a black ground, evoking the fractured nature of the opal's colours. After much experimentation Kee found watercolour the best medium for capturing the pure bright colours of opal in her designs.
Karl Lagerfeld was so impressed with Kee's black opal design that he used the silk fabric in his first ready-to-wear collection for Chanel in 1983.
The Australian opal with its shimmering rainbow of colours became a major theme in Jenny Kee's work.
99/6/17 Mohair dress featuring wattle motif, designed by Jenny Kee, 1977.
The wattle with its green and gold flowers and foliage is Australia's national floral emblem. In this dress Kee uses it as the major decorative motif, celebrating the uniqueness and beauty of Australia's natural environment and using her work to highlight the need to be vigilant about its preservation.
Jenny Kee (born Sydney 1947) is one of Australia's most important designers, best known for designing and retailing a unique range of colourful clothing and knitwear. As one of Australia's most creative clothing and textile designers she was invited to contribute designs for the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Having spent the 1960s in swinging London, working at the Chelsea Antique Market, Kee returned to Australia in 1972. Attracted by the encouraging cultural climate she and her husband Michael Ramsden decided to stay. In 1973 she set up the Flamingo Park 'frock' salon in the Strand Arcade, Sydney selling a range of retro garments, her own designer knits and a range of original designs by Linda Jackson who soon became her business partner. So began the highly succesful and influential collaboration between Kee and Jackson which was to last ten years.
Kee and Jackson are among the very few Australian fashion designers to have achieved an international reputation. Their ranges were glowingly reviewed in Europe and the USA and a special display of their work was set up in the Neiman Marcus department store in Texas. They brought a fresh and innovative approach to design which resulted in collections with a uniquely Australian flavour. They drew around them a very creative band of designers, models and musicians including Peter Tully, Deborah Leser, David McDiarmid, Sharon Calcraft, Deborah Conway, Kate Fitzpatrick and Michael Ramsden who assisted with the designing of garments and their unforgettable Flamingo Follies parades. Australia's natural and urban environment is the central source of inspiration for Jenny Kee's designer knitwear and silks. The archive includes original and photocopied artwork for many of Jenny Kee's designs.
The archive was assembled by the designer, Jenny Kee.
Born in Bondi, Sydney, in 1947, Jenny Kee first entered the world of fashion when she did some modelling work - as a 17 year old she was the Australian face of Canadian Pacific Airlines - and studied fashion at East Sydney Technical College. Kee found the course conservative and uninspiring at the time, largely because her passion for using the vivid colours she herself loved to wear, was discouraged.
Like many other young Australians of the time, Kee was drawn to the London of the 1960s, finding her niche in 1967 at the Chelsea Antique Market, where she started working on the stall run by fellow Australian, Vern Lambert, the man who was to become her mentor. Lambert's innovative style was reflected in the diverse range of antique and secondhand designer clothes - sourced from all over the country - that were sold at his stall. Kee, in turn, had developed her own unique way of presenting and wearing interesting combinations of these clothes, undoubtedly influencing the many actors, rock stars (including Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix) and other celebrities who frequented the Market. At the same time she had begun collecting secondhand handknitted garments.
In late 1972 Kee returned to Australia with her husband, Michael Ramsden, for an exhibition of his paintings being held in Melbourne. With Whitlam's Labor government in power, Kee and Ramsden found Australia's political atmosphere so changed and the general cultural environment so stimulating, that they made the decision not to return to England. Moving back to Sydney, Kee worked towards opening her own shop, with a focus on the '50s styles that so inspired her at the time.
In August 1973, with items of kitsch found by scouring Tempe Tip, a range of second-hand knits, Hawaiian shirts and custom-made Linda Jackson creations - and with the help of a loan from her father - the Flamingo Park Frock Salon, in Sydney's Strand Arcade, opened its doors to the public.
From 1974 to 1982 Flamingo Park's annual parades were major events on Sydney's fashion calendar, the locations for the 'Flamingo Follies' occasionally as exotic as the fashions themselves. The first parade, held in December 1974 at Chinatown's Hingara Restaurant, was followed in 1975 with a parade at the Bondi Pavilion compered by actress Kate Fitzpatrick, who had been one of the parade models the previous year. Subsequent parades included Colour and Shapes (1977), Flamingo Follies '80 (1979) at the Seymour Centre, Flamingo Follies '81(1980) at the Sydney Town Hall and Flamingopal Follies(1981) at the Jamison Street Nightclub.
Having grown up in Sydney's eastern suburbs, Kee's move to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in late 1976, was a revelation. Surrounded by gum trees and with waratahs and black boys growing close to her home, Kee found this natural environment so inspiring that she started to design her own knitwear based on the environment around her.
In January 1977 Jenny Kee and her young daughter Grace were travelling on the Blue Mountains train that was involved in Australia's worst rail disaster when it hit the railway bridge at Granville, killing 83 people. Grace sustained minor injuries.The event was a turning point in Kee's life. She started painting and drawing, taking much of her inspiration from nature and Aboriginal rock paintings - looking at the work she had accumulated, Kee felt some of the designs would look great on fabric.
Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson were largely responsible for making Australian themes on knitwear and clothing fashionable, at first with the Australian public, then in the international arena. Kee's knitwear designs began with the simple themes of the kangaroo, kookaburra and koala, gradually diversifying to ranges of sophisticated motifs, many of which incorporated Australian flora and fauna, and landmarks such as Uluru and the Sydney Opera House - and of course Kee's use of colour was a major factor in making the designs so distinctive. Linda Jackson was also making creative use of Australian flora in particular, in her garment designs. A testament to the pair's originality and flair came in 1977, when Kee and Jackson were jointly awarded the Lyre Bird Award for Australian Fashion Innovation. They both shared a fascination for the opal, an image which was to be incorporated into much of their work. Kee's fabric designs made use of a number of variations on the opal theme and these were printed by Fabio Bellotti's Milan based company, Rainbow.
In 1982 Kee's knitwear made international front pages when Princess Diana, pregnant with Prince William, was spotted at one of Prince Charles' polo matches - she was wearing one of her wedding presents, Jenny Kee's Blinky Bill jumper. Flamingo Park also attracted its share of celebrity customers who included David Bowie, Olivia Newton John and Lauren Bacall.
Having been commissioned in 1982 to design a scarf to commemorate the opening of the Australian National Gallery, Jenny Kee's reputation received another boost the following year when Karl Lagerfeld used Kee's Opal Oz fabric for his silk shirts, skirts and garment lining in the first Chanel ready-to-wear collection shown in Paris. Again on the international stage, Kee was among the designers to participate in the first Australian Fortnight held at the Neiman Marcus Department Store in Dallas (USA). Her designs also featured in the exhibitions 'art knits: Contemporary Knitwear by Australian Designers' (1989) and 'Australian Fashion the Contemporary Art' (1990), both held at the Marimura Art Museum, Tokyo. Locally, Kee received commissions to design a rug for the new Parliament House in Canberra (1986) and to create the official scarf for Australia's bicentennial.
The late 1980s also saw Jenny Kee diversifying yet again with a licensing programme - her designs appeared on a range of products including rugs, ceramics, placemats, bedlinen, scarves and swimwear. And her knitwear was now manufactured by machine, making it more affordable. In addition to this she brought out three books, Jenny Kee Winter Knits (1988), Jenny Kee Knits from Nature (1990) and Jenny Kee Needlepoint (1993), all of which gave the general public the chance to create their own Jenny Kee designs.
While Jenny Kee's passion for the environment had initially manifested itself in her fabric and knitting designs, her concern for the care and conservation of Australia's natural environment soon became obvious as well - Kee's association with the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation, her involvement with Greenpeace and her support of Friends of the Earth's activities, along with active participation in the campaign to preserve the South East Forests (during which she was arrested), were just a few of the activities bearing testament to her commitment to the environmental cause.
In late 1991 Kee opened a second store in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building. By 1993 however, Kee, who wanted to take her life in a different direction, was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain two stores. With the closure of the Queen Victoria Building store in April, Kee had more time to spend on her own art - Jenny Kee's first exhibition on paper, 'Waratahs and Wildlife', dedicated to the waratah, with its ability to rise out of the ashes following bushfires, was held in December 1993.
In early 1995, after 21 years in the Strand Arcade, Kee closed the doors of Flamingo Park to concentrate on her work as designer and artist.
Describing her selection to be one of the four designers to create costumes for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games' opening ceremony as the highlight of her life, Kee subsequently helped in the documentation of the Olympic collection when it was transferred to the Powerhouse Museum.
And in recognition of her longterm contribution to the Powerhouse Museum, in the form of fundraising and her involvement in exhibition openings and education programmes, Jenny Kee, together with Linda Jackson, was accorded the Trustees' highest honour, when in 2003 she was made a Museum Life Fellow.