VOGUE Australia



“I’m not trying to be a great artist. I just love putting that colour on the page and then turning it into something that’s fluid, that can be worn”

Fast and free colour, saturated prints and native botanicals are the leitmotifs that could be attributed to none other than Jenny Kee. As the exuberance of the 1980s took hold, she added her voice to the mix, alerting the world to the talents of our designers. With a sense of wonderment, Kee rediscover­ed an appreciati­on of what makes us unique. By Alison Kubler.

JENNY KEE HAS an incredible head for fashion history, mostly because she has lived it. She is a bona fide icon, having dressed the late Princess of Wales in a koala knit jumper and collaborat­ed with none other than the late legendary Karl Lagerfeld. These two achievemen­ts alone explain the veneration the Australian fashion industry feels for Kee, whose name and label are synonymous with the 1980s. She is the undisputed queen of knits, and a passionate advocate for print and colour.

When Kee returned from a stint in London and in 1973 opened her legendary Flamingo Park boutique in Sydney’s Strand Arcade alongside fellow designer Linda Jackson, she rediscover­ed an appreciati­on for all things Australian. Kee explains: “The colours of this country were the inspiratio­n for my work, the flora and the fauna.” She transforme­d her paintings of waratahs and opals into exquisite prints for silk scarves and unique knits. “I’m not trying to be a great artist. I just love putting that colour on the page and then turning it into something that’s fluid, that can be worn. I’m naive, but there’s a refinement and a style within that naivety.”

When Diana, Princess of Wales wore the koala print jumper to a polo match in 1982, Kee’s name became a household one. Two years later her work would famously catch the eye of Lagerfeld. Kee worked with Fabio Belotti of Milanbased company Rainbow Fabrics to translate her paintings onto silk. Belotti asked her if it would be possible for Lagerfeld to use Kee’s Opal print in his first prêt-à-porter collection for Chanel in 1983 as the lining of a hound’s-tooth suit. “Pat Cleveland wearing my opal print in 1983 in Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection was a divine moment in time for me, because I was a young designer then,” Kee recalls.

Kee was, and still is, a favourite of this magazine. “Vogue was always so supportive of Australian designers, especially in the 1980s.” she says. “Right through the 80s, Vogue never stopped using either Linda Jackson or me.”

Her Opal Goddess resort ’19 collaborat­ion with Romance Was Born’s Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales brought her to the attention of a contempora­ry audience. “It was so exciting, because they represent the young creatives, and not everyone in the fashion world is creative like them. No-one was creative like Linda and I at that time, either, through the 1970s and 1980s. But then Romance came along and we were their mentors. So they’re like our children,” she says. “I went to Paris with them and just had the most incredible time. [Paris-based Australian stylist] Catherine Baba was taking us everywhere and I met the RuPaul drag star Violet Chachki. I said: ‘I’ve got to take photos of you, because my granddaugh­ter loves drag.’ Violet sent her a birthday message, so I became the coolest grandma then.”

Kee and Linda Jackson are now the subject of a major retrospect­ive at the Powerhouse Museum, Step into Paradise, which runs until March 22, 2020 and celebrates their decades-long careers. Kee is grateful for all of it. “I’m having a ball at the age of 71. I’m like a child. I love it. I don’t lose my enthusiasm, because I’m not jaded: actually, my life is humble.”

 ?? ?? Zampatti in 1975.
Kee (left) and Anna Piaggi in Milan in 1984.
Zampatti in 1975. Kee (left) and Anna Piaggi in Milan in 1984.

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