An Even Bigger Life

An Even Bigger Life


"You're a waratah!" exclaimed Jenny Kee as I went into "Awwww‚Ķ.shucks" mode, shuffling along next to the whirlwind of this red-robed maverick at her comeback presentation at MBFWA last week.  This was to be the the second chapter of my encounter with this half-Chinese, half-Italian, Australian-born designer, who has lived a big life.  So big in fact that she's charged back a resurgence that saw one her presentation being one of the highlights in what was a relatively muted MBFWA.  Sure, it was a retrospective. 

The first chapter of my encounter with Kee began, when I read her biography "A Big Life", kindly given to me by Georgie Cleary of Alpha60, just one of many in the Australian fashion industry who owe a lot to Kee.  I was affected enough to write it up in lenghty proportions and since then Kee was kind enough to get in touch via Facebook to say thank you and to also offer a few sage words that I'll keep privately to myself.  I was therefore overjoyed to see Kee returning to the schedule with a presentation that would be styled by Romance was Born duo, Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett, both natural kindred spirited creatives of Kee.  You know when you're petrified that meeting a hero slash heroine in real life would feel deflated and not quite up to scratch?  There was none of that with Kee as she greeted me with a big bear hug and was all smiles, bright eyes and red lips.  Like I said, according to her, I'm now apparently a waratah.  I look at the spiky flower that has this strange and resilient sort of beauty and take Kee's declaration as a compliment even if I feel a little sheepish about it taking on the mantle of such a bloom.  I always thought I was more of a wilting daffodil type.

There certainly wasn't anything wilting about what we saw at the presentation though.  It was a riot of pattern that took not one but two, three, four or even five rounds around the room just to catch all the details.  Three decades worth of new pieces, archive pieces and many of Kee's silk scarves were piled and knotted up on the models in an exuberant manner.  Her work with Linda Jackson, once her partner in fashion crime, was fully saluted but the presentation ushered in a new collaborative relationship between Kee and Romance was Born, one that makes so much sense as the duo seemed to be able to unlock the potential of Kee's work and ensure that everyone can see how relevant and powerful it all is.  There were reminders of Kenzo's 40th anniversary show, where the stylist Vanessa Reid had piled up the archive looks on towering multi-cultural figures, except here, Kee's love of Australia is undeniable.  It can be seen in the eucalyptus and flowers that adorned the models and the set and in the motifs on the prints that feature the Sydney Opera House, aboriginal indigenous designs and vibrant opal shapes.  The work here feels both rooted and connected with the earth as well as being elevated to a far-and-away fantasy land.

In a way, it was a little unnerving to be so overwhelmed and impressed by Kee's output.  This may have been a retrospective of sorts but it was also by far, one of the most inspiring things seen all week.  It gave MBFWA a historical root, something to trace back to, away from VIP champagne bars and corporate sponsors.  Like Tim Blanks, I did end up questioning how the new generation of designers in Australia could work with that same waratah fire, spontaneity and pride of the natural beauty of Australia displayed here.   

My third chapter next year will hopefully be to go and see Kee in her Blue Mountains surroundings, to see for myself the real source of work.  I'm just going to impose myself on her right now.  "Remember me?  I'm that London chick who you called a waratah even though I'm not really‚Ķ wanna take me to Katoomba?" 
























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  1. Bonjour Grace

    2012-05-08 at 5:44 PM

    Wonderfully wild clothes! Those prints are beautiful. Lovely photography.

  2. Elisa Eymery

    2012-05-08 at 5:56 PM

    Wow it all looks mental (in a good way)! To me it looks like she’s created a new ancient civilisation with its own very recognizable way of dressing.
    Wandering Minds clothing

  3. Bug

    2012-05-08 at 6:10 PM

    These are astounding. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse range of inspiration from around the world and all brought together in a coherent collection. From just these shots you can see Thai, Peruvian, Indian and African inspired prints (and no doubt many more that I’m just ignorant of). Great article.
    Bug @ Bugwear

  4. Nathan Niche

    2012-05-08 at 6:23 PM

    woah these are amazing! so glad u and kee have such a kinship, shes adorable! she’s obvi not afraid of color or prints and uses them in a well thought out way, executed with taste and precision, it reminds me of last season’s KTZ african embroidery and prints and neck pieces, very cool stuff and am glad she brings a lil pow wow to mbfwa! 😉
    xx nathan.nice

  5. Sophia

    2012-05-08 at 6:23 PM

    Wow that must have been a show to see. There aren’t really any appropriate words to describe the beauty and complexity. Ancient and modern at the same time. Your text was wonderful. <3

  6. jean cave

    2012-05-08 at 6:31 PM

    Some of the scarves are NEW designs.
    I am so envious of your trip to Blackheath.

  7. bonnie, clyde and marni

    2012-05-08 at 6:48 PM
  8. Miss Coco

    2012-05-08 at 7:11 PM

    I love the prints and the pistures!! sO COOL!!
    Miss Coco

  9. La Vie Quotidienne

    2012-05-08 at 7:19 PM

    Absolout AMAZING
    cool designs and prints…perfect for use in partys =)
    XOXO from MUNICH
    La Vie Quotidienne

  10. Adeola Naomi

    2012-05-08 at 7:30 PM

    Love the prints!!!
    Wild , fierce and wonderful!!!!

  11. My Father Style Master

    2012-05-08 at 9:55 PM
  12. Tiffany

    2012-05-08 at 10:18 PM

    I love the bold patterns and colors. Reminds me of the brand Theodora & Callum. They are having a fabulous Pinterest Contest where you can win a Scarf or Caftan of your choice! Check it out:

  13. Serdane

    2012-05-08 at 10:38 PM

    OMG ! A so colorful collection ! Loveit !

  14. jader d' avila

    2012-05-08 at 11:31 PM

    mary katrantzu is color with order. this one is not even know what the name order means. she is wonderful. thanks susie. only you to unearthen those one of a kind persons. bisous cherie.

  15. jader d' avila

    2012-05-08 at 11:31 PM

    mary katrantzu is color with order. this one is not even know what the name order means. she is wonderful. thanks susie. only you to unearthen those one of a kind persons. bisous cherie.

  16. Emilia

    2012-05-09 at 12:13 AM

    I just love this style, with all the prints… its so ethno! lol


    2012-05-09 at 1:51 AM

    this is absolutely a great inspiration and you are always a great blogger!
    love the prints, the fabrics , the scenario!
    pics are fab!
    thanks for sahring!

  18. Mode French Place

    2012-05-09 at 1:52 PM

    Patchwork pattern are really good ! This ethnic style is cool 🙂

  19. Suzi

    2012-05-09 at 1:57 PM

    I love & support Jenny Kee. A true Aussie style icon with an amazing sense of artistic flair. Have you seen my blog post on her yet? You can check it out on my link if you wish. Hope you’re well.
    Suzi x

  20. StyloweOne

    2012-05-09 at 3:09 PM

    2012-05-09 at 6:00 PM

    Those are some very interesting and vibrant outfits! These clothes are so incredibly unique and leave a lot of room open for self-expression. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, it is truly amazing and beautiful.

  22. Harper Matiko

    2012-05-09 at 6:56 PM

    Overwhelming outfits. In a good, unique way. I think I even have a little bit of a headache. In a good way.

  23. andrea

    2012-05-09 at 9:59 PM

    I had never heard of her until now. Thank you for bringing her to my attention! Words can’t describe how amazing her mix of prints is. Btw, did you get to find out who makes her signature red cat eye glasses?

  24. Susan

    2012-05-10 at 1:03 AM

    Thank you for this post! We Australians can be so stupidly afraid of using Aussie motifs in our art and design, we’re for some reason afraid of the kitsch, although we like the same thing from other cultures…
    Kee does it so well, her work makes me feel joyful and excited and a little bit proud. It makes me want to scuff about in the red dirt with the blue sky and enjoy the dryland flora and fauna, and feel the amazing space and energy.
    *cough* Anyways … I think I’m trying to say that Kee’s work gives me an amazing visceral response about the land.

  25. Deadly Bite

    2012-05-10 at 1:34 AM

    I LOVE these designs! The colours and the patterns are just INCREDIBLE!
    I’m a fan! 😀
    Love! xx

  26. WendyAtTheStylishCity

    2012-05-11 at 12:54 AM

    I’ve never heard of this designer before. Definitely very out there. She’s adorable!

  27. Laveena

    2012-05-11 at 3:44 AM

    I like how the designer used a print featuring Hindu Gods of Shiv, Parvati and Ganesh so imaginatively, fabulous.

  28. Silvia

    2012-05-12 at 7:13 PM

    I think this stile of clothes is diferent from others clothes I ha ve sing and I prefere them bettter than this junk

  29. fashion accessory

    2012-05-14 at 10:21 AM

    How amazing the clothes are! I really love the design-full of exotic feelings.

  30. voguehome

    2012-05-15 at 8:13 AM

    A wonderful post… love the clothing.. !


    2012-05-23 at 1:04 PM

    Awesome collection.No doubt tremendous work done..The colors used re dark and vibrant which soothes..-I must say I had never seen this type of colorful and unique collection of clothes..

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