Kay Cosserat

Inspirational knitting designer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Kay Macklam, knitting designer: born West Hartlepool, Co Durham 24 October 1947; Part-time Lecturer, St Martin's School of Art 1972-80, Royal College of Art 1976-79, 1990-2003, Chelsea School of Art 1985-2003; director, Cosserat Design 1976-2003; RDI 1986; Visiting Professor of Design, London Institute 1992-2003; married 1972 Christopher Cosserat (two sons); died London 9 December 2003.

One of the incidental pleasures of working in the textile and garment industries is to observe an individual success. It was my privilege, as a mere apparatchik in the textile-fair business, to watch the stylists of some of the clothing world's leading brands queue to buy distinctive knitting designs from a diminutive but sprightly, determined woman in black, who calmly dealt with the likes of Liz Claiborne, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein as well as the more sly, though powerful, UK retailers. Kay Cosserat at work was both a thrill and an education.

Education was essentially her pole star - education for success; her own, and unremittingly for all the pupils who had the opportunity to share her knowledge and understand her consistent creative flair.

After earning formidable technical honours - first class degree in art and design at Goldsmiths' College, London, an MA in textiles at the Royal College of Art, and the Sanderson Travel Scholarship in 1972 - Kay Macklam wasted little time in establishing her own business with Christopher Cosserat, a fellow RCA student whom she married in her graduation year. This enterprise developed into the Cosserat Design Partnership in 1974, the same year she was instrumental in the formation of the London Designer Collections, the precursor of London Fashion Week, showcasing and selling the work of British fashion designers.

The word "designer" these days seems to be irrevocably linked to jazzy catwalk affairs, but no fashion designer can begin to operate without a fabric, be it printed, woven or knitted. Design talent is now Britain's primary asset, as virtually every kind of manufacturing endeavour flees our shores. The Cosserat temperament was a crucial factor in securing this talent when she won a pivotal battle with the retail industry over intellectual property and copyright.

Britain's intellectual and creative reputation is consistently saved by people of individual skills who sell their knowledge - not merely in textiles, but a host of other disciplines. In Cosserat's case it was knitting, which she virtually turned into a vocation. Her needles were at work wherever, whenever the moment allowed, and she had a voracious eye for the exotic, whether a humble item in a jumble sale or an exquisite length of Oriental silk.

This role as a designer for industry was more than vindicated by her election by the Royal Society of Arts as a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1986. Her election was promoted by her former tutor at the Royal College of Art, Marianne Straub, whose citation referred to Cosserat's understanding of knitted cloth construction and her outstanding texture combinations:

She has an adventurous colour sense and achieves a personal colour statement whilst keeping in the mainstream of fashion trends.

This was generous, since her pupil had changed disciplines from "weave" to "knit".

Cosserat's facility in coupling creativity with commercial success was a major factor in her inspirational role amongst students. "She was brilliant," Betty Jackson remembers:

She was inspirational about absolutely everything; she could be delighted and cross within the same two minutes, and would absolutely not accept mediocrity. I always wanted to do the best for her. She had such an effect on my team, and we were always concerned about showing the results to her.

She set very high standards, had a marvellous eye and colour sense, and consistently tried to convey this to her students. An immense number of people owe their success to her.

Kay Cosserat took up the teaching banner within months of graduating. Successively she became a member of the Fashion and Textile Board of CNAA (the Council for National Academic Awards); a part-time lecturer at St Martin's School of Art and the Royal College; an external assessor at Central School of Arts and Crafts, Trent Polytechnic, Liverpool Polytechnic, Huddersfield Polytechnic and then Queen's University, Belfast, and the University of Ulster. She was a respected figure at Winchester School of Art, and was also a visiting professor at the London Institute (at Chelsea School of Art) from 1992, where she played a central role in the textile-design faculty. Her business ventures gave way to her activity as an internationally respected consultant designer.

Marriage to Christopher Cosserat was a notably up-and-down affair, but they were reconciled several months ago. However, she was immensely proud of the emergent success as designers of her two sons, Matthew and Jonathan.

All her friends stood in thrall to her vitality and curiosity. This time last year she embarked on a Vietnam safari which included hitching a pillion ride on a motorbike down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. More cynical friends back in London were rewarded with an appropriate T-shirt.

David Harvey

Comments