HE WAS known for his colorful textile designs and caught the eye of Coco Chanel who selected one of his pieces for an early 1960s collection.
Now in the centenary year of his birth, a new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland will explore the life and career of one of the key forces in 20th century modernist design.
Bernat Klein: Design in Color celebrates the work of the Serbian-born textile designer who died in 2014.
The exhibit will look at his creative process and varied career; from supplying innovative couture fabrics to some of Europe’s leading fashion houses to his strong influence on architecture and interior design in the UK and Scandinavia.
Opened on November 5, a day before what would have been his 100th birthday, it is part of a series of cultural events developed by the Bernat Klein Foundation to celebrate the designer in 2022. It will trace his 60-year career as a textile designer. , artist, educator and color consultant.
The National Museums of Scotland acquired its archive in 2010 and the collection of around 4,000 objects of international significance ranges from fabrics and clothing to design development material.
The exhibition will showcase highlights from the collection – including couture fashion, interior designs, textiles and original artwork – alongside newly acquired pieces that contextualize Klein’s work and acknowledge his legacy. Made possible with the support of Art Fund through the New Collecting Awards, these acquisitions include creations by fellow textile designers Ascher Ltd and Tibor Reich.
Klein was born in Yugoslavia, now Serbia, in 1922 to an Orthodox Jewish family that ran a wholesale textile business. He attended the Bezalel School of Art & Craft in Jerusalem in the 1940s, where his exposure to Bauhaus ideas and the modernist architecture of Israel had a profound influence on him.
He escaped the rise of Nazism across Europe, pursuing a degree in textile technology at the University of Leeds before settling in the historic textile center of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, setting up his design business and of manufacture, Colourcraft in 1952.
Lisa Mason, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Design at the National Museums Scotland, said: “Bernat Klein was a key figure in modernist design and one of the most celebrated textile designers of the 20th century. His archive is remarkably large and rich, and this stylish exhibition will showcase some of his highlights, examining his outstanding contribution to the world of design as well as his continuing legacy and influence. The Scottish Borders have been her home and her inspiration for six decades, and the exhibition will also explore the history of the relationship between her work, the landscape and the local textile industry.
Part of a new wave of designers reinvigorating British industry and contributing to post-war economic regeneration, he is best known for his highly original fashion textiles, with their rich textures and exuberant color palette. A significant breakthrough in her career came when Coco Chanel selected one of her mohair tweed fabrics for her Spring/Summer 1963 collection.
Her couture garments quickly dominated international catwalks throughout the 1960s, with designers such as Balenciaga, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Hardy Amies all featuring her work. The company established offices in London and Paris and sold fabrics to the American women’s fashion market. Klein also designed ready-to-wear and textiles for home seamstresses.
He has always had a passion for color and has worked as a color consultant and industrial designer for various national and international companies. In 1966 he set up a design consultancy, working with progressive interior companies in Britain and Scandinavia. He was an accomplished painter and found inspiration in the landscape surrounding his home near Selkirk – High Sunderland. Klein commissioned architect Peter Womersley to design the building, which is now recognized as one of the finest modernist houses in Scotland.
The Bernat Klein Foundation said the exhibit will mark his legacy on the centenary of his birth.
Professor Alison Harley, chair of the foundation, said: “We are delighted to see Bernat Klein getting the attention and attention he deserves as an important creative and cultural figure in Scotland. The exhibition of the centenary at the National Museum of Scotland will tell the story of 20th century design and architecture through its substantial legacy, which continues to inspire new ideas.”
The Bernat Klein Foundation is publishing a book to accompany the centenary exhibition, which will be available at the National Museum throughout the exhibition as well as online.