Tributes have been paid to pioneering fashion designer Bernat Klein, who died last Thursday, aged 91, after a short illness.
The celebrated textile mill owner, famed for brightening Scotland’s drab tweeds with exotic colour, remained alert, active and painting abstract art in his modernist High Sunderland home near Selkirk until a week before he passed away, his daughter, Shelley, told TheSouthern.
She said: “He was still experimenting with colour, and still enjoying life at High Sunderland which he always loved more than anywhere. He loved the landscape, the colours, the view.
“He was never happier than when he was here.
“This house is him: everything he believed in. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s an extension of him: how he felt people should live.”
Klein’s open, simple, bright A-listed house on the Sunderland Hall estate, designed by architect Peter Womersley in 1956, will continue as the family home, lived in by Shelley, and visited by Bernat’s elder daughter Gillian, son Jonathan and their families.
Describing her visionary father, Shelley said: “He was an incredibly kind man. He had a most beautiful smile and sparkle in his eyes. He was a much-loved father and grandfather. He was also a very individual and determined man – very forward thinking.”
Bernat Klein, a Serbian Jew born in Senta in 1922, came to Scotland in 1949 to work in one of Galashiels’ 40 mills, after studying art and design in Jerusalem, and textile technology at Leeds University. In 1952 he set up his own company, Colourcraft, creating innovative textiles. His signature ‘pointillist’ fabrics, inspired by the painter Seurat, included colourful exotic tweeds incorporating mohair and ribbons, as well as velvet and jersey fabrics.
“For a generation of Scottish women, owning a Bernat Klein creation was an aspiration,” Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Institute of Architects Scotland (RIAS) said.
“Klein gave Scottish textiles a new cachet and was largely responsible for the introduction of tweed to the catwalks of Paris and Milan.”
Style-bible Vogue praised him for having “revolutionised traditional English fabrics to win them new recognition abroad”.
So influential was his contribution to the industry, the National Museums of Scotland snapped up his design archive for the nation in 2011.
Friends said, despite the cold weather, Bernat loved his adopted country, and was determined to make it a brighter place, recalling the clothes he first saw in the Borders were either mud-brown or sludge green. “And that was just the women!” he said. “At least the men had their kilts, tartan ties and trews.”
Paying tribute, Professor Alison Harley, creative director for Heriot-Watt’s School of Textiles and Design, said: “Bernat Klein designed and produced some of the most beautiful textiles of the 20th century.
“As an artist, colourist, textile designer and industrialist, his use of colour and yarn exploration was the basis of his design process and experimentation, resulting in industrially-produced woven textiles throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
“Klein’s practice as an artist and his natural sense of colour is integral to the character of his cloth, and its distinctive place in the collections and archives of Chanel, Dior and Yves St Laurent. In the early days of his business and working out of basic surroundings, Klein had recognised the opportunity to open up the luxury market in post-war Britain.
“Building on his success, Klein was able to buy his own mill for production, the High Mill, now home to Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design. The university archive also holds a collection of textiles produced by Klein that are still inspirational in their innovation and provenance.
“We were delighted that Bernat accepted an honorary degree from Heriot-Watt in 2003, and we were working with him still in his 91st year as a great creative mind. It was a privilege to know him.”
“He was a good friend,” added Lord (David) Steel of Aikwood, who also remembered Klein and his late wife, Margaret, for their hospitality at High Sunderland.
“He was also a very public-spirited participant in the Borders Forum series of public meetings in the sixties and seventies,” the veteran Borders politician recalled, “and at one time he had the contract for all the chair covers in the House of Commons.”
The RIAS’s Neil Baxter summed Klein up as “an adoptive Scot whose international influence as a textile designer cannot be underestimated”.
Shelley added: “He was incredibly fond of the Borders. He loved the British character – very accepting. The warmth he received in the Borders was second to none. He felt privileged to live here. He loved living here. He was a really wonderful father.”
A service for Bernat’s family and friends will be held at Borders Crematorium, Melrose, tomorrow (April 25) at 2pm.