Getting your colours done: Bernat Klein and the Personal Colour Guide

We’re all thinking it. “Getting your colours done” just sounds a bit… old-fashioned. The domain of genteel ladies swathed in mauve at their local department store. In fact, I think the only person I’ve ever heard talking about it in earnest is my gran – and that’s not really the most glamourous of associations, is it?

Colour board designed and used by Bernat Klein
Colour board designed and used by Bernat Klein

Next year, we’re opening a brand new Fashion and Style gallery here at the Museum. Our Art and Design curators are working hard to collect the brightest and best from fashion history; it’s going to be one of the biggest showcases of style in the UK. So when I spied a listing for ‘Personal Colour Guide, Bernat Klein’ in our gallery inventory, I had to take another look. Fashionable credentials? Certainly. Actually fashionable? Not so sure.

Personal Colour Guide for light blue eyes, 1965.
Personal Colour Guide for light blue eyes, 1965.

Little did I know. That’s one of the things I love most about working at the museum: the unexpected stories, the hidden connections. I might never have discovered that almost 20 years before they took 1980s fashion by storm, Scotland’s visionary textile designer Bernat Klein was creating Colour Guides for the well-dressed and the well-heeled. They were actually the height of the fashion.

Woven women's fashion samples, entitled Aurora (1965) and Festival (1967)
Woven women’s fashion samples, entitled Aurora (1965) and Festival (1967)

Bernat Klein was renowned for his use of colour and texture. Inspired by Pointillist oil paintings and his natural surroundings in the Borders, colour was at the heart of his work. You can see it so plainly in the beautiful swatches, patterns and designs we’ll be displaying next summer. It’s not surprising then that Klein thought too many people wore colours that didn’t suit them and in 1965, he published his first Personal Colour Guide. Based on your eye colour, it helped you choose the shades which suited you best. The Guides were a instant success.

And not just with fashionistas. The British Government also liked what they saw.

In 1969, the Department of the Environment commissioned Klein to create a standardised range of fabrics for everything from administration offices to army accommodation. Can you imagine the variety and quantity of fabric needed?

Co-ordinated Colour Guides for Interiors, 1971.
Co-ordinated Colour Guides for Interiors, 1971.

No need to imagine. Klein designed 22 carpets, 13 woven textiles and 11 polyester fabrics, all displayed in the same format as his Personal Colour Guides. Three volumes of textiles in distinct colour schemes, featuring one key carpet design which could be matched with co-ordinating and accent fabrics. Colour and pattern working together to improve working and living environments.

Executive Office

So there you have it, your new fashion maxim: having your colours done is not only unexpectedly stylish, but government-mandated too!

Our new Fashion and Style gallery, featuring pieces by Bernat Klein, will open during summer 2016. As part of Edinburgh Art Festival 2015, Dovecot Galleries in Edinburgh are hosting Bernat Klein: A LIFE IN COLOUR from today until 26 September 2015.

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