Today I visited the fabulous exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum (www.ftmlondon.org) , Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour.
The bonus to this visit was that I was fortunate enough to be part of a group (organised by the New Embroidery Group – www.newembroiderygroup.net) getting a guided tour by the museums curator – Denis Northdruft.
Kaffe (pronounced Kayf, although his real name is Frank) Fassett has been designing knitwear since the 1970’s. Coming from a creative family, he grew up in Big Sur California where his parents ran a modernist restaurant which became popular with artists, writers and intellectuals. Fassett attended the School of Fine Arts in Boston and the Art Students league in New York City where he met many important and influential people who encouraged his artistic practice. In 1964 he met the author Christopher Isherwood, and after reading Isherwoods books, Fassett became convinced he should come to England. It was a move that was to mark a turning point in his life, with the London ‘scene’ encouraging his artistic and creative spirit.
His early work was in the form of paintings and line drawings of the china he collected from the Portobello Road. In 1966 he met the designer Bill Gibb which led to Kaffe becoming inspired by the world of fashion. It is as a knitwear designer that he is best known, and his story of how he discovered knitting is bizarre. Apparently he was watching Alice Dunstan-Russell knitting while on a train journey, and persuaded her to teach him to knit so that by the time the journey ended he had mastered the basics enough to go out and buy a pattern for himself. His very first knitted jumper is on show and can be seen in the photo below.
His early designs were featured in Vogue Knitting, and this brought design collaboration opportunities with the London couture house Baccarat and the fashion house Missoni. His fondness of colour and bold patterns became a kind of signature of an era.
Fassett is very interested in the natural world, and this provides him with endless inspiration for his vibrant fabric designs for Rowan as well as tapestry designs for Ehrmann. He is an ardent collector of Blue and White china and this has been a constant source of inspiration for his designs, as has his fondness for cabbages! More recently he has begun designing large quilts which give full rein to his imaginative use of unusual colour combinations.
sketchbook drawings by Kaffe Fassett
Examples of Fassett knitwear designs and hand knitted sample by Fassett
Vibrant tapestry waistcoat and the handpainted sign from Fassett’s shop in Bath
Items from Fassett’s collection of china together with designs and items which they inspired
Original painted design for Peony fabric for Rowan together with colour library ‘swatches’ for printing and annotations by the printers when translating the design into a digital file ready to create a roll of fabric.
While not a large exhibition, the space has been well designed by Sue Timney (of Timney Fowler). The exhibition covers design and artwork from Fassett’s entire life, but is not a retrospective and is also not shown in chronological order. The £8 ticket price is, I feel good value for money as there is so much to see and take inspiration from. the best thing about it is that apart from being able to take loads of photos, you can get up close (but not personal – no touching) to the work which is always a delight. The exhibition is on until 29 June 2013 and is definitely worth a visit.