Bernat Klein: Design in Colour | Exhibition & Book

A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland will explore the life and career of one of the 20th century’s leading forces in Modernist design, in the centenary year of his birth. Bernat Klein: Design in Colour celebrates the work of the Serbian-born textile designer Bernat Klein (1922 – 2014) who settled in the Scottish Borders after the Second World War.

Opening dates: 5 November 2022 to 23 April 2023
Admission: Free

The exhibition will examine his creative process and varied career; from supplying innovative couture fabrics to some of Europe’s top fashion houses to his strong influence on architecture and interior design in the UK and Scandinavia.

Opening on 5 November, it marks the centenary of Klein’s birth and is part of a series of cultural events developed by the Bernat Klein Foundation to celebrate the designer in 2022. It will chart his 60-year career as a textile designer, artist, educator, and colour consultant.

National Museums Scotland acquired his archive in 2010. This internationally significant collection of around 4,000 objects ranges from fabrics and garments to design development material.

On display in the exhibition will be highlights from the collection – including couture fashion, interior designs, textiles and original artworks – alongside newly acquired pieces which contextualise Klein’s work and recognise his legacy. Made possible with Art Fund support through the New Collecting Awards, these acquisitions include creations by fellow textile designers Ascher Ltd and Tibor Reich.

Bernat Klein was born in Yugoslavia (now Serbia) in 1922, to an Orthodox Jewish family who 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 Naziism across Europe, going on to study textile technology at Leeds University before settling in the historic textile centre of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, establishing his design and manufacturing business, Colourcraft in 1952.

Part of a new wave of designers re-invigorating British industry and contributing to economic regeneration in the post-war period, he is best known for his highly original fashion textiles, with their rich textures and exuberant colour palette.  A significant career breakthrough came when Coco Chanel selected one of his mohair tweed fabrics for her spring/summer 1963 collection.

His couture cloths quickly came to dominate international catwalks throughout the 1960s, with designers such as Balenciaga, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Hardy Amies all featuring his work. The company established offices in London and Paris and sold fabrics to the American womenswear market. Klein also designed ready-to-wear fashion and textiles for home dressmakers.

He had a lifelong passion for colour and worked as a colour consultant and industrial designer for various national and international firms. In 1966 he set up a design consultancy company, collaborating with progressive interior firms in Britain and Scandinavia. He was an accomplished painter and found inspiration in the landscape surrounding his Borders home, High Sunderland. Klein commissioned the architect Peter Womersley to design the building, which is recognised today as one of Scotland’s finest modernist homes.

Lisa Mason, Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Design at National Museums Scotland said:

“Bernat Klein was a key figure in Modernist design, and one of the 20th century’s most celebrated textile designers. His archive is remarkably broad and rich, and this stylish exhibition will display some of its highlights, examining his exceptional contribution to the design world and his ongoing legacy and influence. The Scottish Borders were his home and inspiration for six decades, and the exhibition will also explore the story of the relationship between his work, the landscape and the local textile industry.”

The Exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book, Bernat Klein: Design in Colour

Creative Director Alison Harley
Editor Mary Schoeser
Designed by Graphical House
Supported by the William Grant Foundation

This book sets out to reach audiences with a broad interest in postwar design as well as those with an academic or specialist practitioner’s eye. The international range of authors who have been invited to contribute embraces curators, archivists, architects, photographers, artists and collectors. Together they demonstrate their engagement with Bernat Klein’s design concepts and methods of working, as well as his many collaborations as a textile designer and manufacturer.

Settling in the Scottish Borders after the Second World War, his textile business in Galashiels would go on to supply innovative fabrics to some of the world’s top fashion houses, while his design consultancy had influence across the UK, Scandinavia and America. These aspects of his long career naturally sit alongside his lifetime practice as an artist that underpinned and expressed his creative thinking. As a result, the book is a visualisation of Klein’s work and life, as well as a reflection of his distinctive character and personality.

With essays by scholars and practitioners in design, architecture and textiles, Bernat Klein provides both insights into his rich and complex output as well as inspirational material for further research and study. Many of the stunning illustrations are the result of wide-ranging access to high quality archival images that the Bernat Klein Foundation was granted by National Museums Scotland, where his centenary exhibition is on show from 5th November 2022 until 23 April 2023. In celebration of Klein’s substantial contribution to design, the book itself adopts his own approach to the meticulous selection of colours and fonts, giving readers an additional appreciation of this Serbian-born designer’s commitment to an all-embracing approach to visual communication.

This book is a terrific tribute to my father’s vision and work, and is likely to prove a valuable source for anyone who wants to learn more about his life and the principles and practice, which drove his ground-breaking approach to design and colour.

Jonathan Klein, October 2022


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