Linda JacksonBorn 1950 (Narrm/Melbourne)
Linda Jackson AO has been a pioneering figure in fashion design since the early 1970s, when she formed a creative partnership with the designer Jenny Kee AO. She is known for bold silhouettes and prints drawn from the Australian landscape, her spirituality, as well as rich collaborations with other artists.
Jackson was born in 1950 and raised in the Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris. During her teens she designed and made her own often highly individualistic clothes which led her to study dressmaking in the mid-1960s at the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy in Melbourne (now part of RMIT) and photography. After a period working in a bridal salon, assisting with the creation of made-to-order gowns, she travelled overseas with Fran Moore and Peter Tully, spending the early 1970s living in Papua New Guinea and journeying across Southeast Asia and Europe. During this time, she was exposed to a range of influences that would have a lasting effect, from the traditional dress and textiles of Papua New Guinea to the haute couture of Parisian fashion houses.
Returning to Australia in 1973, she was introduced to Jenny Kee AO, a fellow fashion designer who had recently opened a fashion boutique, The Flamingo Park Frock Salon in Sydney’s Strand Arcade. The pair became immediate friends and their meeting marked the beginning of an enduring partnership. They shared a mutual love for the Australian environment and vintage clothing, and soon developed a distinct voice in fashion through their inventive garments and bold prints. Their creations were entirely their own, independent of the conventional marketplace and fashion trends, and Flamingo Park became a hub for those interested in creative and artistic fashion. For the following decade Linda’s fashions retailed in Flamingo Park and together they hosted regular Flamingo Follies fashion shows that combined their designs with music and performance.
Kee and Jackson’s friendship continues today and both have found success in independent projects. Jackson launched her own successful label, Bush Couture, and began working closely with Indigenous communities on textile designs, in particular Utopia Station in the Northern Territory and Daintree Rainforest Queensland
Jackson and Kee’s work has been influential on new generations of fashion designers, including Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales from Romance Was Born, who have devoted two fashion collections to the fashion design duo: Cooee Couture (2015) and Step into Paradise ‘kinda couture’ (2018). In 2019–20 Jackson and Kee’s work was the subject of a major survey exhibition, Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee: Step into paradise, at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.
BIOGRAPHY WRITTEN BY SID AND FIONA MYER CURATOR, AUSTRALIAN ART REBECCA EDWARDS IN COLLABORATION WITH LINDA JACKSON
Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson by Rebecca Evans
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
Headscarf and sunhat clad, and framed by the iconic Bondi Beach, Australian designers Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson appear to have stepped out of the 1950s in their vintage‑inspired ensembles. Taken in 1975, this photograph by Annie Noon shows the designers wearing Jackson’s Tutti frutti and Love letters outfits, featuring 1950s fabrics and accessories. Although most Australians will be familiar with Kee and Jackson’s dazzling use of native flora, fauna and landmarks in their work, this photograph shows the early influence of mid‑century style on both designers. For over 50 years Kee and Jackson have shared a formidable partnership, founded in a common aesthetic and a desire to produce a distinctly Australian fashion vernacular.
Born and raised in Bondi, Kee trained in fashion design at East Sydney Technical College before moving to London in the 1960s, a mecca for culture, art and fashion. Soon after returning to Sydney in 1973 she met Jackson, a Melbournian who studied dressmaking, design and photography and had also recently returned from overseas. As creative collaborators, Jackson and Kee worked together from 1973–82. Kee ran the legendary Flamingo Park store in Sydney’s Strand Arcade between 1973 and 1995. As Kee says:
With Linda’s unusual clothes and other pieces I collected from London, it was really a mix … We had cushions, crocheted items, flamingos and reggae music blasting out of an apple green jukebox. It was very kitsch, but romantic. Six months later, in April 1974, my knits went into the store and I have never looked back.(1)
In 1982 Kee and Jackson ended their formal partnership. Jackson embarked on a nomadic existence, collaborating with Indigenous Australian women artists at Utopia Station in the Northern Territory to produce textiles and garments that drew on their artistic traditions and landscape. She later recalled: ‘I loved watching the artists sitting around the fire, creating their batiks, marking their stories onto silk and cotton. The batik technique seemed to suit the heat and red dust of the desert … Meeting these women in their place made my heart sing!’(2)
Kee became known for her popular knitted jumpers in bright colours and patterns, including the infamous koala knit worn by Princess Diana. A quintessential Kee design is the 1980–85 Oz all ensemble, featuring a myriad of classic Australian references: lines drawn from Dorothea Mackellar’s famous 1908 poem My Country, the Sydney Opera House, Uluru and Sturt’s Desert Pea.(3) This work is a romp through Australiana imagery, fearlessly proclaimed in colour and form.
Since the early 1970s, both Kee and Jackson have paved extensive careers as artists and designers, individually and in collaboration with some of Australia’s brightest creatives. They are friends first and foremost and continue to play significant roles as mentors and supporters of local fashion and design industries. Their quest to create bold, unapologetic Australian contemporary design is their legacy and ongoing passion.
(1) Jane Rocca, ‘“Creative version of a first love”: The colourful impact of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 2019, at smh.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/creativeversion-of-a-first-love-the-colourful-impact-ofjenny-kee-and-linda-jackson-20191002-p52wy5.html, accessed 25 November 2019.
(2) Ansie van der Walt, ‘A thread runs through it: Linda Jackson and Utopia’, Adelaide Review, 24 April 2017, at adelaidereview.com.au/arts/visual-arts/2017/04/24/thread-runs-linda-jacksonutopia/, accessed 25 November 2019.
(3) The Oz all outfit features Kee’s Uni Oz pattern knitted in the skirt, which is also the print of the author’s childhood bedsheets.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Evans, Rebecca. "Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 206–207.
REBECCA EVANS is is Curator, Decorative Arts and Design, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.