Patternbank were excited to explore Orla Kiely’s iconic print archive last week, at the first ever exhibition of her work, products, and patterns. Orla Kiely is one of the UK and Ireland’s most successful designers. Her stylized graphic patterns are innovative, influential and instantly recognisable. With a global audience in thrall to the rhythms and repeats of her designs, this exhibition explores the power of decoration to transform the way we feel. The Exhibition opens from the 25th May – 23rd Sept at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. The Patternbank team were lucky enough to walk the show with Orla, and ask some questions at the launch event last Wednesday.

In your opinion what makes a timeless textile pattern?

I think something that is well designed, there are lots of different styles and lots of different textiles that are timeless classics in their own right. It’s about the quality of the design work. Also the consideration of colour and not overworking the design.

Your designs take inspiration from the 50s & 60s, as well as Scandinavian modern design. What draws you to this era and design aesthetic?

I grew up in those times (the 60s & 70s) and when you’re a child you are absorbing. Things become comforting or familiar. My family had funny interior quirks. Lots of people say that my designs are comforting and remind them of their childhood. 

The fashion world by its nature is fast moving and always changing, what would be your most important piece of advice to a textile designer starting out now?  

Be themselves, follow their own instincts, build of their own personal style. Rather than designing in a certain fashion, be unique!

How has the Orla Kiely’s design process changed over the last 20 years? 

Technology is one big way we’ve changed, but in a funny way when I started technology was at the beginning and everything was very much done by hand. This was a foundation for me and my design process. I was lucky because when you have to design everything by hand, you have to consider ahead more. You don’t want to spend hours painting something then think, oh I don’t like that. I was a dab hand at acetate firm and I used to layer acetate onto acetate. You had to add a bit of soap into your gouache paint so it would adhere. That was how I would test colour ways. I think you had to invest in thinking about things. Now, of course, you can just churn out colourways.

The Orla Kiely brand has grown from their signature bags to clothing, jewellery, homeware and garden products. Are there any new developments you can share with us?

We are of course continuing with all of those things. We’ve just designed a sunglasses range and thinking how to apply the pattern to them is more challenging. This exhibition has taken up a lot of my time but I’ll be back to work on Monday morning on catching up with all the above products.

Featuring over 150 patterns and products, as well as collaborations with photographers, film directors and architects, Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern emphasises the role of ornament and colour in our everyday lives. Highlights include the original paper sketches for the trademark ‘Stem’ graphic, created in the 1990s, which has evolved to feature on everything from mugs and dresses to notebooks and even cars, plus prototypes for her early signature bags and the evolution of the iconic ‘Pear’ and ‘Flower’ designs. With unique access to the company archives, the exhibition offers a privileged insight into the designer’s world – how she works, what has inspired her, and why her facility with pattern has produced designs that have resonated around the world. This exhibition is a must-see opportunity for everyone interested in the changing look of the 21st century environment.

Order your copy of ‘Orla Kiely: a Life in Pattern’ now. 

Shop Orla Kiely – www.orlakiely.com

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