Textile designer and all-round colourist Kaffe Fassett was born in San-Francisco but has lived in London since 1964. He first made a name for himself in knitwear, collaborating with fashion designer Bill Gibb and Missoni amongst others, but he’s applied his inspired talent for colour to needlepoint tapestry, woven fabrics, quilt making, mosaics and theatre costume design.
Tomorrow ‘Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour’ opens at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, it showcases five decades of his work with over 100 pieces exhibited within an installation designed by Sue Timney.
How would you describe your style? Dramatic, as you can read in my autobiography, I wanted to go on the stage when I was young and have retained a love for the theatrical, celebrating colour is another short description of my style.
What was your big break? It was one after another – getting work in Vogue, designing for the Missoni’s, Bill Gibb and the adventurous movie stars that commissioned me.
What’s your studio like? On a good day organised chaos. Piles of fabric, stacked boxes and baskets of yarn, paints, palettes, piles of paper, decorative china, shelves groaning with source books, oriental carpets and a work wall covered in patchwork and knitted swatches. No telephone or computer are allowed. I have Radio 4 on most of the time.
What inspired you to go into the arts? When I was four years old, friends of the family gave me a set of oil paints, so yes I always knew I wanted to be some sort of artist. I’ve always been absurdly content to be making things, particularly textiles. Colour always was the most attention-grabbing of life’s many gifts for me ever since I was a small child.
Which design are you most proud of? I always hope the next piece will be the best.
Which discipline of design do you love working in most? As I say, textiles stole my heart early on and I am most happy when knitting, doing needlepoint or patchwork.
How has the design industry changed since you started out? I think the Scandinavian modern style influenced the design world in the 1950’s and 1960’s when I was emerging from art school and starting up my own studio. Now I feel things are a lot more human, there’s more colour and a looser approach, it’s not so clinical and bloodless. At least, that’s the case with the works in design that I’m drawn to. I notice that there is more colour and pattern nowadays in interiors and exteriors.
Which other designers do you admire? Kathy Doughty of Material Obsession in Australia who not only makes great quilts but teaches and encourages others. Liza Lucy who got me into patchwork is producing wonderful quilts for our annual Rowan Magazine and others. For knitting, Brandon Mably does gorgeous work for Vogue Knitting and Rowan Magazines, he also does exciting graphic fabric designs for patchwork too.
What do you do when not designing? Reading has become a passion that holds great satisfaction and I love doing jigsaws (only old paintings though) and watching TV, going to films and theatre. Walking and going to the gym and traveling too.
Do you collect anything? Yes, art, decorative art books, china, patterned textiles and patchwork quilts.
What did you learn from working with others? Collaboration is thrilling. Once you give up being a control freak. I always learn so much. Another point of view can be refreshing, but never give up on the vision that you are inspired to create.
What would be your dream project? To cover a large building in mosaic or tiles. I was blown away by the way murals transformed buildings in Australia and also tile-covered houses in Portugal. We need more delight in our cities.
What are you working on right now? I’m doing a collection of knits for the Rowan Knit Book, making a series of nice patchworks for my next patchwork and quilting book (out next year).
You’re such a great colourist, what is you very favourite palette? The colour world is so infinity vast and complex I couldn’t possibly fix on a colour. But, if you put a gun to my head and made me choose I’d have to say the subtle colours of stones on a Scottish or California pebble beach.
‘Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour’ 22nd March-29 June, book tickets here.