Orla Kiely at the Fashion and Textile Museum

There’s a brilliant moment in the new exhibition Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern when you enter into a large, high room filled with eight dresses, each nine feet tall, hanging from the ceiling.  The dresses are an exact replica of the smaller versions that Kiely has made in her fashion collections but seeing them in such a large size brings every ruffle, every colour and pattern to attention.  And to accentuate the feeling of Alice in Wonderland even further, the dresses are accompanied by eight mini dolls made by the artist Sarah Strachan wearing the same outfits. ‘Scale is so important in my work’ said Kiely when we asked her about the room, ‘I’m always playing with scale in my patterns.’

The new exhibition shows over 150 of her colourful patterns (out of a library of over a 500) including, of course, her most recognisable and popular ‘stem’ pattern that has adorned everything from Uniqlo Heat Tech t-shirts to the interiors of a Citroen DS3.


Kiely set up the business with her husband in the 1990s (with two children in tow and Orla still working full time in another job) and she is now one of the UK and Ireland’s most successful designers.  She and her husband still own 100% of the company and oversee every detail (the stylist Leith Clark with whom she designs the fashion collections says, ‘In her work Orla is…a control freak.  She oversees every single aspect of every single element and it all, every detail, matters deeply to her.’)  And it definitely shows through in this exhibition –  every fabric and design (shown alongside samples, mood boards and making techniques), every handbag and notebook is carefully considered, loved even.

It’s an exhibition which feels like being immersed in Kiely’s own personal world of colour and design – often humorous with a strong nod to the mid-century modern world of her childhood.  ‘My earliest memory of pattern was being allowed to choose my own wallpaper as a child’ says Kiely. ‘It was the 70’s so it was brown floral and when I closed my eyes, I could feel the colours flow like a river.  It was so relaxing’.  Do go and see this show – it’s a riot of pattern and colour which makes for an extremely uplifting and joyous experience.

Orla Kiely: A life in Pattern
25 May - 23 September 2018
Fashion & Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XF
— Francesca
23rd May 2018