If you think of fashion, prints and patterns, you’ll soon come to Orla Kiely (1963), one of England’s greatest designers. Her graphic patterns can be found all over the world, from mugs to dresses and from cars to even a London busses. The Fashion & Textile Museum is currently presenting a retrospective exhibition with work by this leading Irish fashion designer.
The exhibition, which opened in May, examines how decoration influences the way we feel and how we live our lives. With original paper sketches, patterns, products and some successful collaborations, A Life in Pattern follows the career of the designer from its origins in Dublin till now.
Upon entering the museum you step immediately into the world of Orla Kiely. The exhibition starts with a small archive where interviews and clippings from the press can be found. On the pictures you’ll see Kiely during her youth and graduation period. Next to it some models wearing her designs. On a large screen you can watch some TV interviews of the designer.
Kiely first worked in New York for a while as a textile designer before coming to England where she started working for Esprit. In the same period she was also busy finishing her MA at the Royal College of Art. During her studies she mainly focused on knitwear and her hats played an important role during her graduation show. Which were eventually picked up by Harrods. Later she worked as a designer for M&S and Habitat. In the nineties she decided to start her own company together with her partner Dermott Rowan.
Orla, raised in a family where her father was an accountant and her mother studied science, says that her inspiration for working in design was mainly due to her stylish grandmother. The museum also describes that her work is influenced by: the exuberance of the sixties, love for Irish and Scandinavian architecture and the design of the mid-century. Orla expresses as well: “Pattern is not a trend for me, pattern is in me, it’s my life.”
The second part of the exhibition is a hallway that is completely adorned with its leading colorful prints and designs. In showcases and on shelves you’ll find all kinds of Orla Kiely products such as: alarm clocks, books, lamps and crockery. Many of these products are still being sold.
Her most famous and recognizable designs are based on abstract leaves, flowers and bold geometric shapes. In addition to patterns, the color palette also plays an important role in her designs. With typical colors from the 70s as mustard yellow, blue, green and dark orange. Nicely balanced with cream, pink and neutral shades of gray.
When you enter the centre area of the museum from the hallway you will be surprised with extremely large-scale replicas of some of her favorite clothing designs. These gigantic dresses are hung on the ceiling on big hangars. On the wall you see small dolls in showcases dressed in the same designs.
On the top floor, a group of mannequins are showing a selection of her fashion designs over the years. In addition to its famous print designs, the fashion designer has also been creating a successful clothing line since 1997, which can also be seen at London Fashion Week. The outfits are charming with a ‘girlish’ character. Many of them play with prints, although there are also a few outfits worked out in flat colors and some with embroidery on them. Along the wall you can have a look at the many fashion photos that are made from her earlier collections.
Another striking part of the exhibition is the wall full of bags. She started designing bags after her father noticed at the London Fashion Week that only a few people wore hats but all of them did wore a bag. It made Kiely decide to design a simple bag executed in laminated fabric. A design which is still very populair.
Orla Kiely has achieved great success and has won various awards and honors. The exhibition A Life in Pattern highlights these moments and many others from Kiely’s creative life till now, but it also offers an insight into the world of the designer, the work process and the sources of inspiration. And if you want to visit this museum with children to introduce them to the world of fashion and design, then this exhibition with all its colors, prints and shapes is absolutely recommended.
Unfortunately the exhibition is already coming to an end this month and can be seen until September 23.
Suitable for ages
Young Children (4-8), Older Children (9-12), Adults
Cafe – souvenir shop – toilets available – baby changing, venue hiring
Address & Contact
83 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3XF, England
For more information about the museum and exhibitions that take place, click here
T: 020 7407 8664
Tuesday / Wednesday / Friday / Saturday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 8pm
Sunday: 11am – 5pm
Students/children under 12: free
Per Adult for groups of 20 or more: £8.50
Per concession for groups of 20 or more: £7.50
Per student for groups of 19 or fewer (one group leader free): £7
Per student for groups of 20 or more (3 group leaders free): £6.50