Kaffe Fassett 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.
At the age of nineteen Kaffe Fassett 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. Private commissions for one off pieces followed 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.
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 and 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
Images from the exhibition ‘Kaffe Fassett – A life in Colour’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London
Since then Kaffe has been involved in an ever expanding range of activities, charitable as well as artistic. In the 1990s 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. He can never 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 40 years, without a break. Kaffe is recognised as one of the world’s leading textile designers.