Artist Profile - Orla Kiely

Artist Profile - Orla Kiely


Hi all and welcome back to my blog on all things art and entertainment.  I was recently browsing one of my favourite second hand classified ads websites, when I stumbled across a plethora of amazing used Orla Kiely products.  I quickly bought up lots of great Orla Kiely fabrics here: .  And it led me to thinking about Orla Kiely as an artist and designer so I decided to have a look into how she got started.

Orla Kiely


Orla Kiely is an Irish fashion and textile designer who now lives in London, United Kingdom.  Kiely studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and upon graduating moved to New York to work for a wallpaper and fabric designer.  This was in the mid 1980’s and thus before digital design came about.  This means that each designer would design the patterns by hand, mix the paint colours in gauche, by hand, and then they would paint their designs onto strips of card and dry them using a hairdryer so they could be presented to the boss quicker, for faster approval.  Once approved these designs would then be created and copied and pasted a sufficient amount of time until a pattern or repeat emerged and then the pattern would be looked at from a distance to se whether or not it was working, and how it could be improved.  This, according to Kiely, was the “best colour training anyone could have had” and she remember that comments from her boss resonated with her, “not dirty enough”, “add linden green” and “make it cleaner”, and she took these on board and they would later become part of the structure to her designs.


However, when we look at Orla Kielys designs we can see the eras where she got most of her influences from, the 1960’s and the 1970’s.  She says of Ireland at his time “It was lovely, the greens, the yellows.. the clouds, the skies and the sea.  In a sense, it’s not colourful, but you do see accents in the wild flowers by the road, or the yellow gorse on the mountains.  I love all those dirty colours – and mixes in with sharp brights they look more sophisticated” Kitsch, in your face and rather unusual colour pairings are some words you might think of when you think back to the colour palettes and designs from these eras.  And when Kiely describes the kitchen her mother had during this time we can clearly see where her love of colour came from “olive green Formica cupboards and a gloss orange ceiling”


After working in New York, Kiely moved to London where she worked for Esprit, whilst also studying for her MA primarily in knitwear at the prestigious Royal College of Arts.  She started making hats and for her final show at the Royal College of Arts she displayed these and they were picked up by Harrods.  She then went on to do more design work for Marks and Spencer and Habitat.  A year or two after she graduated she had a stand at London Fashion Week and her dad came to visit.  He noticed that no one there was wearing hats but they all had a handbag of some sort with them.   She began designing handbags and it was because of these bags that she began to gain traction and seeped into the public consciousness.  Originally working on fabric bags, she came up with the idea of working with laminated fabric so that her designs could be admired and used all year round.


Stem and her other print designs.

LeafsStem was one of the first designs that Orla Kiely became known for.  It began in the winter colour palette and has since been appropriated in many different colourways.  Orla Kiely describes the design as “very flexible.  We’ve been able to adapt it, modify it, rescale it, recolour it, add texture... It’s also quite clean and unfussy – and interestingly because of that, it is also not off-putting to men.

This is far from the only design Kiely is known for.  Orla Kiely has been described by The Guardian as the “Queen of Prints” and I whole heartedly agree.  Her designs have been appropriated onto many different fabrics and a variety of household objects, not limited to kitchenware, stationary, furniture, wallpaper, London buses and of course, handbags.

Flowers on a busI hope you’ve enjoyed looking into Orla Kielys work as much as I have, her designs are incredible and beautiful.  If you’d like to see more of her works check them out on the Orla Kiely website.