By Sara Templeton
fashion heritage doesn't stretch as far back as, say, French
fashion, but we do have some ties with the past, with which
local designers can find inspiration.
Jenny (a.k.a Jennifer Margaret Kee) was born at Bondi Beach
in Sydney in 1947. Her father's family, of Chinese heritage,
emigrated to Australia in the 1850s during the gold rush.
I guess you could say that the gold rush brought not only
wealth, prosperity and infrastructure to Australia, but also
Jenny Kee, a national icon and pioneering designer. She used
the vibrant colours seen in everyday Australian life to come
up with designs related to the outback and the Australian
Her mother was half Italian and half British, but growing
up in Bondi wasn't all smiles and rainbows for Jenny. She
recounts that at Bondi Beach public school she was the butt
of many racist jokes, but rather than take it on the chin,
the feisty youngster stood up for herself. She claims this
self-assuredness is what made her what she is today.
She has been reported as saying: "I did have a problem
with racist taunts when I was young, but it made me sort of
tougher... I will stand up to anyone and I'm proud of who
I am... I feel it was having the combination of those different
cultures is what really made me - it's what makes me so vivacious."
After finishing school, it was in 1963 that Jenny discovered
that she really got a buzz from being artistic. As such, she
enrolled at the East Sydney Technical College for a course
in fashion design.
Unfortunately, things didn't go exactly to plan.
"Australia was a very, very bland place in the early
sixties and we were young people crying out for change. I
had the good fortune of meeting the Beatles and I knew it
was happening in London (and) it certainly wasn't happening
in Australia and that beat me a path to London and I arrived
there in 1965." Simply put, the Australian education
system deemed her designs as too colourful, too radical.
After contemplating the situation in Australia, Jenny Kee
knew that she had to go. So off to London it was for the budding
fashion designer and she didn't look back.
Upon arriving in London, things changed dramatically for
the far-from-home Aussie. But at the same token, she loved
what was happening around her - the styles and fashions were
extremely out there, and they were appreciated. This
gave her much hope.
She recounts the innovation she started seeing when she first
arrived in 1965. "London was happening..." she remembers.
Learning much from living in a completely different land,
replete with a different culture, Jenny worked at Vernon Lambert's
right hand, at his Chelsea Antique Market, which specialised
in vintage couture.
It was in 1972 that Kee journeyed back to Australia, one
that would finally support her vivid and colourful art. Not
long after returning Down Under, Jenny opened a fashion boutique
called Flamingo Park. Jenny had a profusion of new ideas she'd
brought back from the cold streets of London and was just
dying to showcase them to fellow Australians. The Flamingo
Park was the ideal medium for this.
After opening her boutique, Jenny was approached by fashion
and textile designer Linda Jackson. The two women formed a
partnership and started creating the Aussie jumper a la Jenny
Kee in 1974 - pure Australian wool knitted jumpers with Australian
emblems creating a bright and colourful garment.
Kee's knitwear and related garments had a certain luminescence
and were ultimately bright and very audacious. The people
loved them and it showed in growing sales.
In 1976, Jenny moved with her new hubby, artist Michael Ramsden,
and daughter, Grace, to the Blue Mountains. However, her life
took a turn for the worst when, just a few months later, she
and daughter Grace were travelling on a train.
The Granville Train.
The train crashed and was one of Australia's worst ever
rail disasters, killing many people. Jenny and her daughter
were some of the luckier ones, surviving the ordeal. As a
result of the horrific event, Jenny started painting. She
recalls: "... for me the Granville Train Crash was a
huge turning point... I survived and started painting it -
that's when I started painting."
started painting flowers and animals, opals, exotic birds
and tropical fish. In 1977, Kee and Jackson took their work,
which was painted and then printed onto exotic silks, to Europe.
Italian Vogue gave the "Flower Series" a full centre
spread article, and Chanel in Paris wanted to use the series,
From here, things took off for Jenny and in the mid-eighties
she launched her own label - Jenny Kee.
Her fabrics and designs are now part of the history of Australian
Fashion Design and Jenny will continue to be a role model
for many young budding artists across this great land of ours.
Jenny continues to paint to this day.