From Henry Miller to Missoni, Kaffe Fassett Still Dreams in Color

by: Amy DuFault

January 24, 2013

While some might say that an artist like Kaffe Fasset, a man who came into this world on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor would inherit darkness, if you knew anything of Fassett’s art, you would only consider that with him came the birth of light.

Destined for intellectual, spiritual and artistic greatness from his early days living in Nepenthe, an artist and bohemian retreat in Big Sur (his parents bought from Orson Welles), Fassett has much to consider in a new, very personal autobiography called Dreaming in Color.

Kaffe Fassett's family at Nepenthe
Kaffe Fassett’s family at Nepenthe

One can barely imagine the life Fassett has been part of: his dinners with Henry Miller, his impressionable years at a boarding school run by the disciples of Krishnamurti, years of trial and error as an artist in academia and beyond designing knitwear in the house of Missoni, for Vogue and Lauren Bacall.

Now in his seventies, Fassett continues to create and educate himself on color, textiles and the art that underlays it all. The WILD spoke to the artist about his upbringing, color and the thing he’s most proud of.

Kaffe Fassett WILD mag interview

Do you feel like Nepenthe built the foundation of who you are today as an artist?
Yes, I guess I had to credit the building and functioning of Nepenthe as a huge life enhancing lesson 
 for my young mind. To watch your parents realize such a huge seemingly impossible dream would give anyone the courage of their convictions. The initial building of such a modern structure on the untamed coastline with no electricity was an adventure to be sure. Then the worlds intelligentsia flocked to us bringing all those tales of culture and the far off lands of Europe, the orient…to meet writers, artists, dancers, musicians and other successful characters made a young boys dream and made me see that a creative life could happen for me. Dreaming is half the battle in the creative process.

Having been surrounded by artists your whole life, were you ever offered an opportunity to explore life beyond the abstract?
Yes, there were times when abstract expression beckoned but I always felt that my flower forms and still life’s and knit designs could be abstract in some way.

What is it about color that draws you in and makes you want to create?
Color is so deeply affirming that I wonder why anyone questions its vital role in our lives. The most pedestrian design is so often transformed by a new color interpretation. I have often noticed my spirits rise when I’m depressed if I encounter a blast of rich color.

As the world of fashion gets more and more deeply in love with grey, beige and other lifeless, bloodless colors that do little to enhance skin tones, I long to dress people in rich color, to bring back life to the crowds. I’m always encouraged by older women who have the courage to wear personal colors of their choosing rather than join the youngsters. The idea of a field of rich color can get me out of bed and madly knitting, stitching or painting a new fabric design (plug: or sewing a bright beaded and buttoned hat for my exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum, London in March).

You went to a boarding school run by the disciples of Krishnamurti, lived most of your life on the California coast on Orson Welles’ former property and have designed knitwear for Missoni and Vogue. Do you ever get in a conversation with someone and see just how different you have lived than others?
You see my life as extraordinary, but essentially I feel the same fears and anxieties as anyone else. Sitting in my studio in London, knitting up samples I wonder if anyone can take this old hippie seriously. All my history sounds grand when it’s listed in a book but it didn’t really make me that different I feel. I certainly wasn’t that good at school and sports where my mates where so much better. But I guess I did inherit my mother’s confidence.

What have you created lately that you are most proud of and why?
I’m doing a lecture for the Colour Group (based in the UK) and being awarded the Turner Medal for my contribution to color. Putting together slides of my travel impressions, my paintings, textile and mosaics to express my feeling for the world of color has got me more excited than anything I’ve done to date – just gathering together and grouping by color palette the images of tapestries, landscapes, gardens, murals, knitted shawls, needlepoint and color filled still life’s makes me ecstatic. But when I think about it, each new thing I create is potentially the best thing I’ve done – so my enthusiasm keeps shifting and growing!

Kaffe Fassett WILD mag interview

Kaffe Fassett WILD mag interview


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