I was fortunate to have visited the Orla Kiely ‘A Life In Pattern’ Exhibition a few weeks ago in Bermondsey. I hadn’t planned to attend but on hearing the day earlier that the fashion side of her business had gone into liquidation, I knew I had to go. It felt a bit like having to pay my respects in some way. I was still in shock about the latest news and therefore despite being thrilled to look around the exhibition, I felt deeply saddened too. Orla has been a HUGE inspiration to me and my creative career over the years. I’ve loved her designs for over twenty years - my first ever Orla Kiely bag was a pink patterned canvas one that she designed for Autograph at M&S years and years ago. (This was before she even had a name for herself and long before her infamous stem print.) I then went on to use and love many of her printed bags in various sizes. I had her car print bag and also one with trees on. Below is my all time favourite bag that I lovingly look after in my wardrobe and only use on very best occasions. It’s still as bold as the day I bought it, many many years ago in Brighton. I’m so happy I’ve kept this all these years - despite become more minimalist in my home, this is one of the few items I still love and treasure.
My favourite Orla Kiely red stem print bag from my Brighton days.
I’ve also been fortunate to have built up a little collection of her past catalogues - the earliest dates from 2005. These contain some of my favourite designs of hers in bright primary colours.
Two of my early catalogues.
I hadn’t ever been to the Museum Of Fashion and Textiles so hadn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t expected it to be such a cool looking building painted in pink and orange!
Outside the Museum of Fashion and Textiles - (photo taken by my mum! )
I was lucky that my mum agreed to accompany me there too - she’d been before but kindly came again. (She’d recently attended a talk given by Orla in a London bookshop and also loves her designs). Walking around the exhibition was a bittersweet experience for me. You can see from my photos below that I pretty much had the whole place to myself. Part of me felt absolutely overjoyed to see on mass all her wonderful designs close up from over the years and yet the other part of me felt incredibly solemn.(and I didn’t want to linger too long) How could it be that someone so great could go into administration? How could this have happened? How could this be happening whilst her wondrous designs were still being celebrated in the exhibition? It just didn’t add up to me at all.
Her patterns are like walking through a photo album of my previous life - I can almost tell you where I was living and who I was hanging around with when certain designs came out! I can match the colours to my past.
I took many photos walking around but have chosen here to show some of my favourites from her great portfolio.
I loved seeing larger than life clothes hanging from the ceilings and the little superb handmade dolls that were made by my friend Sarah Strachan.
I literally only spent about half an hour in the exhibition before I needed to leave, get some fresh air and a coffee. I felt too overwhelmed and raw being amongst years and years of her work and yet the news in my head of her liquidation was still incomprehensible.
Below are some photos I took looking at the pages of my various catalogues - photos of clothes I loved and have owned. I still have the green striped dress and the rainbow striped dress, although I no longer fit into them!
The green striped dress that was my favourite for years!
I shall always be immensely grateful to Orla Kiely for giving me the inspiration to create the creative life that I now have. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her use of pattern and colours and have loved screen printing onto fabrics ever since I knew it was possible. I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post - long live the wonderful designer Orla Kiely. x