Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bernat Klein

One of the great things about holiday get-togethers with kith and kin is learning more about your family. This week my cousin mentioned a very distant family relationship with Bernat Klein, a top British textile designer, now aged 90. I have done a little on-line research and I am intrigued by what I have discovered.

Klein with his wife, Margaret Soper

Klein was born in Yugoslavia to an orthodox Jewish family in the textile trade, and studied in Jerusalem and Leeds. Based in Scotland, he supplied textiles to haute couture designers (Chanel, Cardin, Dior, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent) in the 1960s and 1970s, and later sold his own clothing collections. At one time, he ran a cottage industry of 250 hand-knitters. In 1964, Vogue praised Klein as having "revolutionized traditional English fabrics to win them new recognition abroad." He credits the business acumen of his late wife, Margaret Soper, for much of his success. Eventually his enterprise grew to employ over 600 internationally.

a recent painting

Bernat Klein Studio, near his home in Selkirk

Also a painter, he was appointed CBE in 1973. About 1800 items documenting his career are archived at National Museums Scotland. It is said that his distinctive approach to colour has been hugely influential on both fashion and interior design.  Klein continues to paint every day.

In 1964, Klein had a studio built to house his enterprise, near Selkirk, in southern Scotland. It has won several architectural awards, and has been voted 5th best building in Scotland built in the last 50 years. Its new owner is currently renovating the building.

Bernat Klein at home, aged 90

I have ordered a copy of Klein's book, An Eye for Colour, and look forward to adding it to my collection of books on the subject.

I have always known that my mother's family worked in the textile industry, as did so many in the Leeds region at that time, but this is at a whole other level. Very exciting!


Dianne Robinson said...

That is exciting. It will be very intriguing to see his book. How far back are you related?

Heather said...

It's a ridiculously distant relationship. I am in touch with my "Cousin Brenda" who is his sister-in-law. Brenda Soper is a lovely lady, living in a little town outside of Oxford. She is in fact my second cousin once removed. Her mother and my grandfather were cousins.

As I was researching him on line, I learned that he had done some "spying" during the war. In spite of the fact that he knew very little English, he was employed listening to radio transmissions and reported what he heard to the British. I also learned that both his parents were interned in concentration camps during the war, and that only his father survived. He was sent to study in Jerusalem in the mid-thirties.

A fascinating figure. If I ever have a chance to visit him, I would be thrilled.