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.