Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern

This week, just hours after I’d secured tickets for the Orla Kiely exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, it was announced that the label known for its 1960s/1970s-inspired bold graphic patterns, had collapsed into administration.

So, this isn’t the blog post I was looking for. Although I don’t own a single item from Orla Kiely – impossible! I hear you shout – the ‘Queen of Pattern’ is a great inspiration and a huge fraternity of fashion and print-lovers are now in mourning. On viewing the lovely exhibition, the news certainly tainted it with sadness; an outwardly successful brand has fallen and has us thinking, what hope is there for others?

Many are speculating that the label over-licensed itself and diversified too much. Items from clothing and homewares to hand soap and gardening equipment are adorned with the floral patterns. The ubiquitous ‘Stem’ design has even turned up on a bus. Leading us to ask, surely no one wants to turn up to a dinner party dressed in the same pattern as the host’s oven glove? Brands like Marimekko, are most likely scrutinising the downfall. The more I read and hear, it’s looking likely that the brand took licensing, a patterned yogurt pot too far.

Reflecting on my own (minute in comparison) work, I made the decision early on, that the poisonous plant designs would never grace such an item as a tea towel. These patterns live in an Agatha Christie world of quaint villages, cozy high teas, murders in stately homes, arsenic and large inheritances. A life with maids and butlers. Characters who could roughly, if pushed, locate the whereabouts of the kitchen but wouldn’t know for toffee what a tea towel was used for, even as it was being tightened around their neck.* The patterns on a cocktail shaker maybe but on a soap dispenser? Probably not.**

Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern continues until 23 September at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Bermondsey. It’s a glorious retro-patterned feast for the eyes and you might just come away with your own conclusions as to why such a well-known and well-loved label has turned from orderly shapes into a crumble.

* As far as I know, Agatha Christie never used a tea towel as a murder weapon
** Disclaimer: if anyone asks me, I can’t say for sure that I’d turn them down