Please note that the offices are closed for the Easter period between Friday 18th and Monday 21st April 2014.
Kaffe is full of Californian energy and it has a lot to do with his upbringing. He grew up in Big Sur, south of San Francisco, on a spectacular stretch of that beautiful windswept coastline in a house which had belonged to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. In those days Big Sur was an artistic, isolated community and the Fassetts had Henry Miller as a neighbour. A restaurant was attached to the house with a huge wooden platformed floor commanding one of the best ocean views anywhere in America and it was here that Kaffe grew up surrounded by painters, artists, sculptors, ballet dancers, writers and film stars. The restaurant was called Nepenthe and it was a destination for the creative, alternative artworld that was emerging in California in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Jack Kerouac and beatnik friends, Joan Baez and Clint Eastwood would all drop by. Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw came to dinner on motorcycles as did less welcome guests – the San Francisco chapter of the Hells Angels. The then governor of California Jerry Brown was a regular visitor and Daniel Ellsberg hid out in Big Sur after the Watergate papers were released. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton featured the Nepenthe bar and deck in their film ‘The Sandpiper’. When the film had to relocate to France for tax reasons Kaffe recalls his astonishment at visiting the film set in Paris and seeing Nepenthe recreated. It costs more to build the set than the restaurant in 1949! In this heady world Kaffe’s love of all things visual blossomed and the freedom and exuberance of those days has been reflected in his work ever since.
At the age of nineteen Kaffe won a scholarship to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston but inspired by his conversations about England with Christopher Isherwood he left in 1964 for London. His timing was perfect. London was about to explode in colour with the arrival of the swinging sixties and Kaffe was in his element. On a trip to Scotland he took up knitting and results followed fast. He designed the knitwear for Bill Gibb, and Missoni of Italy commissioned his early collections. There followed a flood of private commissions for one off pieces and at about the same time Kaffe became heavily involved with Tricia Guild’s Designer Guild, one of London’s most successful interior design companies. Many of their famous patterns from those early years were designed by Kaffe. In 1978 Kaffe started to design tapestry kits for us and a couple of year’s later knitting patterns for Rowan. In 1985 Kaffe became the first living textile artist to have a one man show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. There followed a torrent of bestselling books which revolutionised the crafts of knitting and needlepoint with Steve Lovi’s magical photography an integral part of their success. Exhibitions travelled around the world. Of particular note was one in Stockholm which attracted 105,000 visitors who queued round the block to pay for their tickets, and three roomsets which Kaffe created in the Hankyu department store in Osaka, Japan, where 30,000 people visited the display in six days. His six part television series ‘Glorious Colour’ ran on Channel 4 and it wasn’t long before he was on ‘Desert Island Discs’ with Sue Lawley, proof if proof were needed that in his adopted country he had truly arrived.
Since then Kaffe has been involved in an ever expanding range of activities, charitable as well as artistic. In the 1990’s he teamed up with Candace Bahouth to work on mosaics. In 1993 he designed costumes and sets for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘As You Like It’. In 1998 he designed Hillier’s garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. He is constantly on the move teaching and lecturing around the world and in recent years a growing proportion of his time has been devoted to expanding his range of fabric prints for the patchwork market. On the charitable side Kaffe works with Oxfam in poverty stricken villages in India and Guatemala advising local communities on design that will sell in developed countries. He can not resist a new challenge and shows no sign of slowing down.
In the midst of all these activities his needlework designing is a constant. He has been the most important and consistent contributor to our catalogues for over 30 years, without a break, and his inventiveness was summed up by the Sunday Telegraph when they wrote “Kaffe Fassett’s tapestry designs are bolder. They have a wonderful glow, thanks to his subtle gradations of colour. Any they are simply a lot more fun than most things on the market”.