Bernat Klein (1922-2014) was a textile designer and artist born in Serbia, but his heart – and life’s work – was in Galashiels, the Scottish Borders.
Klein was educated in the Czech Republic and in Israel, at the Bezalel School of Art and Crafts in Jerusalem, before moving to the UK.
A textile technology graduate from the University of Leeds, he worked in Bolton and Edinburgh before setting up his own textile design business – Colourcraft (Gala) Limited – in a dilapidated weaving shed at Netherdale Mill, Galashiels, in 1952.
The local textile industry was in decline at the time, but encouraged by his wife, and with a loan of five hundred pounds from a friend, he began to produce rugs, scarves and ties.
Klein was inspired by the Scottish Borders and in particular, the views around his home, High Sunderland, and the seasonal colours which were the subject of many of his paintings and textile designs.
His signature fabrics, which reflected his beautiful surroundings, included colourful and exotic tweed, incorporating mohair and ribbons, as well as velvet and jersey fabrics.
In 1956, as his business grew, Klein moved into Netherdale’s High Mill (Galashiels), now home to Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design, one of the oldest textiles teaching schools in the world.
Klein built up trade with well-known brands such as Woolworths and Marks and Spencer, but his breakthrough into the European couture market came when his mohair tweed fabric, in sumptuous shades of yellow and gold, orange and green – inspired by the local landscape – was chosen by Coco Chanel for her spring 1963 collection. Other couture houses, including Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Nina Ricci and Pierre Cardin, also used his luxurious textiles in their designs, transforming the fortunes of not only Colourcraft, but the neighbouring Galashiels Mills.
According to documents held at Heriot Watt University Museum and Archive, French couture described Klein’s fabric as ‘Fantasy’.
Klein’s influence and success contributed to a resurgence in the Borders’ textile industry, but in 1966, he resigned from the company and established his own ‘Bernat Klein’ label.
He was a champion of modernist architecture and design and he commissioned local architect Peter Womersley – famous for designing Gala Fairydean Rovers’ distinctive Netherdale stand – to build a studio for him in the same Modernist style as his home, High Sunderland, which he’d also designed.
Working from his studio, Klein carried out design consultancy work and during the 1970s, began producing his own clothing collections for shops in Edinburgh and London, as well as mail order selling.
The Scottish Borders provided the perfect landscape for Klein, and the windows of his Womersely-designed home – in the valley of the Ettrick – perfectly framed each view, as Richard Brook, Architect and Reader at Manchester School of Architecture, describes in his article for the Bernat Klein Foundation:
“The colours of the landscape were referenced in Bernat’s design for the mosaic screen that faces those arriving at the house up the rising curve of the drive. The greens, reds, oranges, browns and greys of the variously textured and glazed tiles capture the seasonal transformation of the deciduous woodland and the rolling vales of the Borders. The myriad colours recall Bernat’s ambition to create cloth with ‘dozens and dozens of them’.”
In a career spanning over 40 years, Klein produced innovative fashion fabrics for the couture houses of Europe and worked as a colour consultant and industrial designer.
From modest beginnings, he reenergised the local textile industry with his innovation, artistry and creativity, the magical landscape around his Scottish Borders home providing his greatest inspiration.
The Bernat Klein Foundation is committed to developing and managing Bernat Klein’s legacy through the advancement of his creative and cultural heritage and supported by a Board of Trustees with the Klein Family: www.bernatkleinfoundation.org
You can read more about Bernat Klein and his wonderful home in his daughter Shelley’s acclaimed book, ‘The See-Through House: My Father in Full Colour’, published in early 2020.