Jenny Kee literally exploded onto the Australian fashion scene in a kaleidoscope of colour at a time when neutral colours and copying overseas trends overseas was de rigueur.
It was the creative partnership with Linda Jackson in the 1970’s that was the beginning of daring fashion designs centring around Australian flora and fauna.
Ever since Kee’s has been an enduring fashion leader who has proudly created a unique Australian identify that has become world renowned.
And it is not just her designs that are so uniquely colourful, she has lived a BIG LIFE (also the title of her autobiography) that has seen flings with rock stars, dinners with Royalty and standing ovations from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld.
Rightly so, she was inducted into the Design Institute of Australia ‘Hall of Fame’ in 2013 and she is one of my style icons.
And what’s not to love about Jenny Kee:
- At nearly 70 she’s still rocking her colourful signature look of short cropped hair, statement glasses and red lipstick!
- She studied fashion design at the East Sydney Technical College in 1963 which she describes as “boring as batshit”. It was a fling with John Lennon during the Beatles Australian Tour in 1964 that made her realise the possibilities of the world and she fled Bondi for London at 18 years of age.
- She is a proud groupie and has also had flings with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Roger Daltrey.
- She credits her time working at London’s Chelsea Antique Market for style guru and vintage trail blazer Vern Lambert as her “university of fashion”. (She sold jackets to Mick Jagger!)
- Upon returning to Australia in 1973, she was inspired to open her famous frock salon Flamingo Park after sitting on Bondi Beach and seeing a lack of colour in Australian fashion.
- At the salon’s opening (at 11 o’clock, 27 August, 1973) she had a sign on the door saying “Step into Paradise” and had Jimmy Cliff singing Rivers of Babylon on an apple-green cassette player.
- Diana, Princess of Wales, wore Kee’s koala knit jumper with a map of Australia on the back at a polo match a year after she was married to Prince Charles. (Later, Princess Di herself put Kee’s on the guest list for a dinner at the Governor General’s residence during the royal tour to Australia in 1983).
- As a result she hit mainstream popularity and was asked by the Australian Women’s Weekly to design a ‘Blinki Di’ pattern for readers to knit at home. (David Bowie also purchased a ‘Blinky’ jumper on his visit to Australia in 1984.)
- Kee and Jackson’s ‘Flamingo Follies’ fashion shows became legendary events including once taking over a Chinese restaurant, treating everyone to dinner, then clearing the tables so the models could use them as a catwalk.
- Upon entering a dinner at the Milan Fashion Shows in the 70’s she received a standing ovation for the outfit she was wearing from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani. (Now that is some serious fashion cred!)
- She designed the logo for Wildplant Rescue, a non-for-profit organisation conserving natural plant heritage in urban areas of the Blue Mountains, where she lives. (LOVE IT!)
- She turned to painting to cope after surviving the 1972 Granville train crash. Later her images of birds, flowers, opals and tropical fish were screen printed onto silks which in 1977 were given a full spread in Italian Vogue and used by Chanel in Paris.
- She terms her bathroom as the ‘goddess room of the house’ where she (the goddess) bathes in her favourite smells of bergamot, lavender and rosemary.
- Inside her Blue Mountain’s home (an old dairy farmer’s cottage) her interior walls are rusty corrugated iron and distressed wood (“It feels like history”).
- She is a Buddhist and has an alter at her home.
- Her knit jumpers are her favourite memorabilia and she loves that they are coming back in vogue. (So do I!)
How I wish I hadn’t been swaddled up in baby clothes in the mid seventies and instead been able to visit Ms Kee at Flamingo Park. I would have dug it!