NotesAustralian fashion designer Jenny Kee designed this Luna Park dress around 1980 for her label, Flamingo Park, which gained enormous appeal for its printed textiles and knitted garments. In 1974 Kee met experienced hand-knitter Jan Ayres and appointed her to produce a new knitwear range designed by Kee. Ayres worked for Flamingo Park for several years and made this and many other knitted items.
Born in Bondi, Jenny Kee studied fashion design and worked as a model before leaving Australia in 1965 for 'Swinging London', where she made the most of the creative maelstrom and met up with a coterie of other young expats, dubbed by the local press the 'Downundergrounders'. Kee landed a job with another expatriate Australian, Vern Lambert, working on his clothing stall at the Chelsea Antique market. 'I called it the School of Fashion in Life - my training ground', she recalled.' It was like working in a museum but we wore the clothes. I wore a torn Fortuny dress as a scarf. We sold Poiret, Mainbocher, Schiaparelli.' [National Trust Quarterly Feb 1994, page 18.]
In 1972 Kee returned to Australia for what she believed would be a brief visit to attend the opening of an exhibition of husband Michael Ramsden's artwork. Instead they found the creative climate so changed and charged with possibilities they decided to stay. 'I was thinking London's not so exciting any more. We'd gone through the 60s. It wasn't fabulous or buzzy any more, and I could feel all this energy happening here.' [Interview with Powerhouse Museum Curator Glynis Jones, 1994]
In 1973 Kee opened her Flamingo Park 'frock salon' in Sydney's Strand Arcade (with a $5000 loan 'dribbled out' by her father). With its mix of art, retro kitsch and original clothing, knitwear and textile designs by Kee and her friend and fellow designer Linda Jackson, Flamingo Park became an artistic hub, drawing creative people from different fields to collaborate on the design of outfits and accessories and take part in what were reported as Sydney's most sensational fashion events, the annual Flamingo Follies parades.
Kee was determined to acknowledge and celebrate Australia's unique environment in her work. In 1974, with Flamingo Park's first winter season looming, she decided to create a garment that was distinctly Australian, combining wool ('our greatest export'), the traditional craft of knitting, and 'purely Australian imagery' [Kee papers in Powerhouse Museum, notes to Curator Jane de Teliga about 1992].
These first knits, inspired by garments popular in the 1950s, were zipper-fronted cardigans featuring simple kookaburra, kangaroo and koala motifs. They were soon in great demand. In 1982 the Princess of Wales was seen sporting a 'Blinky Bill' koala jumper (a wedding present from NSW Premier Neville Wran's daughter Kim). The museum's Kee archive also includes a slightly altered version entitled 'Blinky Di'; this was offered as a pattern to Australian Women's Weekly readers and reflects the way Kee's work ranged from one-off 'art clothes' to broadly commercial applications.
Flamingo Park's winter collection received a full page report in the Daily Telegraph announcing 'There's a new Nationalism taking over the Australian fashion industry. Imported goods are strictly taboo on the fashion front. Now the industry is swinging to the tune of Advance Australia Fair and fashion conscious shoppers are snapping up clothes that herald a true blue fashion' [24 November 1974].