Image: Detail of Bernat Klein Design mail order catalogue. 1973. © Bernat Klein. © National Museums Scotland.
Serbian-born textile designer Bernat Klein (1922-2014) studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, further specialising in Textile Technology at the University of Leeds, in the north of England, at the end of the Second World War. By 1952, he had settled in Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, setting up his own mill, Netherdale, and his own company, Colourcraft (Gala) Limited.
This area of Scotland is renowned for its pastoral beauty, and Klein drew continual inspiration from the colours and textures he found in the nature around him. His eye was informed by his admiration of the Pointillist school of painters, particularly Seurat. To try to reproduce the complexity of colour he found in nature, Klein developed a technique he called ‘space-dyeing’, allowing him to combine many colours in a single cloth. His signature fabrics included especially colourful tweeds— often shot through with unexpected materials such as mohair and velvet ribbons.
Image: Group of six woven womenswear fabric samples, mohair tweed. Bernat Klein, c. 1965. © National Museums Scotland
At its height, Klein’s company supported a local cottage industry of some 250 hand knitters. His products were well received and were soon stocked not only at his own shop, in Edinburgh, but by major national retailers, such as Marks & Spencer.
Image: Sample fabric Marmara. Bernat Klein, 1967. © National Museums Scotland
Confident in his vision, Klein also commissioned two of Scotland’s foremost modernist buildings— his home, High Sunderland (1957), and the Bernat Klein Studio (1972) —both by his friend, Peter Womersley.
Image: High Sunderland. Photo © National Museums Scotland.
In 1962, his and multicoloured ‘tweed mohair’ caught the eye of Coco Chanel, who included his work in her spring collection. The following year, Klein famously organised a press trip to Netherdale, hosting a fashion show in his home, High Sunderland. The resulting coverage ensured Klein would go on to become one of the 20th century’s leading forces in modernist design, supplying innovative fabrics to some of Europe’s top fashion houses, including Hardy Amies, Pierre Balmain, Balenciaga, Dior, Pierre Cardin, and Yves St Laurent, Mattli, Ronald Patterson, Nina Ricci, and Victor Stiebl.
Image: Jean Shrimpton wears a suit by Monte-Sano Pruzan made from Bernat Klein fabric, 1963. Bert Stern, Vogue, ©Condé Nast
However, he resigned from his company— now rebranded as Bernat Klein Limited— in 1966, following the acquisition of a major stake by a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco. He immediately re-established his own independent business, contributing to the cutting edge of the new manmade fibre technologies, and producing his own range of ‘Diolen’ fabric, screen printed with magnified details of his oil paintings.
Throughout his 40-year career, Klein worked across fashion and interiors, colour consultancy, and industrial design. Britain’s Department of the Environment even commissioned him to develop a range of carpets and upholstery. He received a Design Council Award in 1968, but his philosophy influenced fashion, fine art, interiors, architecture, and colour theory for many years, and this legacy was recognised in 2003 by an Honorary Degree from Heriot-Watt University.
Image: Tulip Petals. Rug designed by Bernat Klein, manufactured by Fiedler Fabric, c. late 1960s - early 1970s. Image © National Museums Scotland.
Small collections of his work are held in the Scottish Borders at Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels, and at the Borders Textile Towerhouse in Hawick, but by far the largest archive collection— at over 4000 pieces —is held at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh. And it is the National Museum of Scotland who will be launching a free exhibition to mark the centenary of Klein’s birth, opening on 5th November, 2022. The exhibition will include paintings, textiles, garments, and examples of product design and branding, and will underline how Klein’s ethos continues to inspire designers today. In a special event, curator Lisa Mason will discuss how Klein’s legacy still influences our understanding of style, colour psychology, and personal wellbeing.
Image: Sample Maple. Bernat Klein, 1961. Image © National Museums Scotland.
The Bernat Klein Foundation, launched in 2018 to provide an open resource for Klein’s legacy, will also be coordinating a series of events, including talks and workshops, which will be promoted through their Instagram page.