For over 40 years internationally acclaimed artist and fashion designer Jenny Kee has remained a pioneer of Australian fashion and national fashion icon. Best known for her distinctly Australian and vibrant approach, Jenny draws her inspiration from Australian flora, fauna and landscapes. As one of the first fashion designers to place Australian iconography front and centre in her designs, her creations remain as joyously relevant today just as they did in 1980.
We know Jenny Kee as an artist, designer and Australian icon. What best describes your role?
All of the above – proud to be an Australian icon and passionate lover of promoting Australian nature through my design and art.
What inspired you to start your namesake label?
Have a look at my book “A Big Life” – it’s a long story and its all set out there.
Did you receive any formal training in fashion prior to starting your brand?
My formal training was 18 months at East Sydney Tech studying fashion design in a very boring conservative climate in 1963, and I left. My informal training was being immersed in swinging London and working at the Chelsea Antique Market from 1967-1972, which was my university of fashion, style and life.
What is your creative process?
I approach everything slightly differently and am very spontaneous but a consistent approach involves creating many small paintings and designs. Collage is my signature way of designing, sometimes using as many as 50 works in one design.
Outline a typical day-in-the life of Jenny Kee:
I am a very undisciplined person but my day always starts with meditative practice and stretches and my daily routine always includes yoga, swimming and walking. As well my day nearly always involves some aspect of running my business, whether it be creating a new design, routine, boring admin chores and of course being on granny duty. My day generally starts around 8am and I keep going until the early hours as this is my most creative time.
What has been your career highlight, thus far?
There have been many moments – working on the Olympics in 2000 was a wonderful moment. Lagerfeld using my black and white opal design in 65 garments in his very first Chanel show in 1982 in Paris. It was shown in Australia a year earlier and for the first time Australia was leading the way in fashion.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in business?
Never accept compromise on your standards – always aim to be the best you can in whatever you do.
What does it take to be a successful designer?
Its essential to have good business sense and if you don’t have it, surround yourself with people who do, and who you trust.
How do you describe your brand DNA?
My designs come from the heart and reflect my passionate nature – my styles are meant to last and are strong, spontaneous, graphic, vibrant, colourful, exotic and meaningful.
Describe your own personal style?
What Australian and international designers do you admire or follow?
How would you describe Australian fashion culture?
That laid-back Aussie beach style says it all.
You have had many creative collaborators over the span of your career. Do you have a mentor or brand muse?
I work off the aesthetic of Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) who used the integration of a wide range of artistic mediums to express her art. She has always been a huge inspiration for me from when I first started designing back in the early 70s and continues to be today. She is an example of someone who has blended fashion and design with art, creating timeless pieces.
When you aren’t designing, how do you like to spend your time?
Walking in the beautiful Blue Mountains where I live and work.
How would you like your brand to be described?
I love creating timeless classic shapes – that aren’t fashion and don’t date. As I said in 1980 – “I don’t want to be restricted by fashion whims – it’s too temporary – I think my work is about lasting.”
I love working on limited-edition pieces, such as my knit collection and my range of scarves – I love collaging my chaotic colourful art onto silk. At this stage of my life, it is important that any projects or collaborations are true to my philosophy and beliefs.
You can find Jenny on Instagram @jennykeeoz