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Trained at the Kingston Art School, then did his military service in the Seaforth Highlanders in Malaysia ( during the Malayan Emergency). He then graduated from The Royal College of Art , London UK, in 1955. After graduating he wrote to John Fowler ( Colefax & Fowler), writing " You are the only person in the world I want to work for". Unfortunately, his interview with John Fowler didn't go as well as one might hope. John Fowler said to him " What have you been doing at that college for three years? You know nothing!".Luckily, three weeks later, Imogene Taylor of Colefax & Fowler called to offer him a position. His first celebrity job was an apartment in Eaton Square for Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh, as well as working on their country house. After a couple of years or working with John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, he realized that he was never going to climb any higher at Colefax & Fowler, luckily Mrs. Henry "Sister Parish" II was in London.
John Fowler " lent" Keith out to Sister Parish for job in Johannesburg, who, when the job was finished, offered Keith a job in New York and $40.00 a week. So in 1957 he left England for the Big Apple, with $38.00 in his pocket. The next morning he took a cab straight from the boat to the Sutton Place home address of Sister Parish- who had forgotten that she had hired him. On the first day in the office he was handed a card that read " Lord help the Mister who comes between you and Sister", things went downhill from there. Keith did not like Sister Parish, and not only because he wasn't allowed to use the bathroom ( it was all women in the office), and had to go across the street to the Old Westbury Hotel, instead. He was not impressed by Sister Parish's decorating, which he said was " appealing on the surface but without depth". He managed to deal with the situation for nine months before he informed Sister Parish that he was leaving to start his own firm. On hearing this news Sister Parish said to him " you will never last for a year. You don't know anyone.".
When Keith first arrived in New York he had searched for an apartment share in the New York Times, and ended up meeting Robin Roberts . Before things could really settle Keith had a partner and firm, Roberts & Irvine . Finding it difficult to find the French and English fabrics that where a staple in Keith Irvine's decorating style, Roberts and Irvine created the fabric house Clarence House. Tom Fleming became an assistant as the business took off. Before the year was out the firm split ( Keith claimed that with the influx of "top drawer" clients, Roberts had become a "liability" as he didn't "move readily in 'polite society'", Roberts took Clarence House, and Keith left to start Keith Irvine & Co. Tom Fleming stayed on with him and became a partner on 1 January 1967 and Irvine & Fleming was born. Many successful designers started their careers as Keith Irvine's assistant, such as Tom Fleming, Mario Buatta, Sam Blount, Gary Zarr, Richard Keith Langham, Greg Jordan, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Bell.
Keith Irvine's celebrity clients included Leonard Bernstein, William F. Buckley, Jr., Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ted Kennedy, Jerome Robbins, Diana Ross, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II, and Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, and many more.
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