Saturday 19 August 2017

Home is where the heart is for Dubliner Orla Kiely

Dubliner Orla Kiely has carved out a global empire with her distinctive fashion and lifestyle ranges - and her latest venture is one that is very close to her heart, she tells our fashion editor

Passion project: Designer Orla Kiely at the London apartment that she recently decorated
Passion project: Designer Orla Kiely at the London apartment that she recently decorated
Orla Kiely heart pin for Irish Heart appeal
Orla Kiely for Irish Heart
Paisley print dress and suede embroidered ‘Rosemary bag’ from SS17 Orla Kiely collection
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

You just can't take the Irishness out of Orla Kiely, who loves returning home whenever possible. The London-based, Dublin-born mother-of-two has with her husband, Dermott Rowan, created a global brand respected around the world. She's come a long way since Orla's dad suggested she switch from making hats to handbags -because most women carry a bag.

Wise words indeed and, two decades after Orla's lightbulb moment to make handbags using wipe-clean laminate cloth, the brand has grown impressively into a lifestyle label encompassing virtually every aspect of our waking, and sleeping, hours.

There's clothing, handbags, housewares, soft furnishings, furniture, bedlinen, candles, jewellery, beauty and fragrance products; there's even been an Orla Kiely car for Citroën - and let's not forget those Expressway buses criss-crossing the country in the livery of Orla's Multi Stem print to mark ID2015, the year-long initiative celebrating Irish design.

Her newest business projects are three new stores in South Korea. Last September, Orla (52) captured the trendsetters' attention in print and on social media when she opened her newest US store. What better advert for the premises in New York's cool West Village, than a retinue of models stealing column inches during New York Fashion Week SS17, all dressed in her colourful clothing collection?

Orla grew up beside the sea in Shankill, Co Dublin, and her husband, Dermott, was a Monkstown lad. Her latest project is a charity fundraising Happy Heart pin designed for Irish Heart - formerly the Irish Heart Foundation - which launches next Friday, May 12. The project has a personal resonance for the couple.

"They asked me to do it and I felt it was a charity that I would like to work with," says Orla, before explaining how Dermott's mother died suddenly from a heart attack. The €3 Happy Heart Appeal pin can be bought from volunteers on streets around the country, in shopping centres and also in branches of the Bank of Ireland.

"I think research is important and the charity needs to generate money to do the research and to train people," says Orla. She goes on to describe the double heart pin as "a nice, simple icon that works for the charity and that can build into other things if we want to".

The simplicity of the double heart pin is typical of Orla's signature style and sure sense of graphic control. From a sideline accessories business that she developed in her spare time, Orla Kiely has achieved remarkable success. In just two decades, the Irishwoman has introduced a mesmerising range of designs which have infiltrated our lives. Along the way, Orla earned the title 'Queen of Prints' and in 2011 was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to business and the fashion industry in the UK. Who would have imagined, when her dad bought her a Singer sewing machine at age 12, where it would all lead.

So, what's left for Orla to design?

She laughs heartily as I go through Orla Kiely's presence in my daily life - from my phone cover to the mug I drink my first coffee of the day from to her clothes, with their curious mix of retro and modern chic, which are also enjoyed by 'It' girls such as Alexa Chung and Kirsten Dunst. When Kate Middleton, a firm Orla Kiely fan, wore Orla's bird-print dress back in 2012, it triggered a near meltdown on her website.

"But, Orla," I whine, "what about the shoes?" The footwear I'm referring to is Kiely's former collaboration with the high-street brand Clarks. "I know, the shoes were great - that was a great collaboration," she says. "I guess we hit something with the shoes. They were great; I still wear them. They weren't just for a season. I still see people wearing them all the time."

So, where will the Orla Kiely handprint touch next, I enquire. "The newest thing for us - and we've done it before, but in a small way - is that we are about to do eyewear. I think it is looking really exciting, from spectacles to sunglasses. They will be ready to launch hopefully by September and they are looking cool, with vintage styling in a modern way."

The latest arrival on the Kiely fashion landscape to date has been L'Orla, a capsule range designed by Kiely with stylist Leith Clark. The pair are currently collaborating on their Resort 2018 collection.

Where does L'Orla fit in, I ask. Is it a little sister to the mainline range? "I think L'Orla goes further on femininity - so it's the very feminine sister," explains Orla, whose inspiration has always come with a strong, mid-century vintage vibe.

As they expand into different markets around the world, the response has been very favourable. "People are still discovering us, which is always nice. The stores are doing really well online too. It's nice to open up new markets, and people are responding well."

On the home front, Orla explains that they've done a number of interior projects recently, including the shops in South Korea and their New York store in Bleecker Street. They also designed an apartment in London, which features custom tiles in the Spot Shadow print. "Doing the apartment was an interesting project. It's in our old office and it was more of a base for family and friends to come and stay. We only finished it a couple of months ago - and it's definitely an Orla Kiely experience; there's no doubt about that.

"The photograph that Dermott took of me recently [pictured above left] was in the flat - it was a really nice project. It wasn't playing it safe; it was definitely pushing the pattern. It was personal and it was really fun to do. The bathroom is completely wraparound giant flowers and they look very cute - and very wow," she says.

When she's not working, downtime treats include long walks with Olive, the couple's labradoodle, "and we now have Ivy, a little version of Olive, and they are great.

"We go off on lovely long walks and they run around. I've also started playing tennis again. It's important to try and do things outside of work as well, and stay fit and healthy. That's the plan."

Weekend pursuits include cards. "I love playing cards, not bridge, but bridge-type, and no gambling involved. It's lovely to kind of sit around with friends - that's always good fun. I consider that quite relaxing."

In the office, Orla loves to listen to the radio. "I usually have BBC Radio 4 on, and things like Woman's Hour."

The couple's elder son, Robert, 21, is in Manchester studying history and politics, and their younger son, Hamish, 19, is very creative, according to Orla. "At the moment, I think he is going to be creative for himself."

What about the less creative among us? For people starting out decorating new homes, who might be worried about how to introduce print, Orla concedes: "Print is a funny thing. For me, a lot of it is about confidence and about believing in yourself. Some people can put it up and make it look fabulous. For other people, less is more."

When it comes to using print, she recommends: "If you are not quite sure what you are doing, definitely build it slowly. Sometimes I think it's better at the beginning to start with one thing that's the biggest statement and then build on that."

Committed Orla Kiely fans have come to adore the particular colours the Dubliner embraces with passion.

"I do have a palette that I love. But I have to say, in recent times, I've pushed out a little bit and brought in new colours. I love yellows and greens and oranges and reds and pinks - all of those colours together with browns and greys.

"It's the balance of the brights with the neutrals: I think that is really important to have a play together so they can all balance."

When I enquire about the colour of the hall door on her family home in Clapham, Orla reveals, "It's grey… but there's lots of colour inside," she hurries to add.

I wouldn't expect anything else from the Queen of Prints.

See orlakiely.com

 

She goes on to describe the double heart pin as "a nice, simple icon that works for the charity and that can build into other things if we want to".

The simplicity of the double heart pin is typical of Orla's signature style and sure sense of graphic control. From a sideline accessories business that she developed in her spare time, Orla Kiely has achieved remarkable success. In just two decades, the Irishwoman has introduced a mesmerising range of designs which have infiltrated our lives. Along the way, Orla earned the title 'Queen of Prints' and in 2011 was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to business and the fashion industry in the UK. Who would have imagined, when her dad bought her a Singer sewing machine at age 12, where it would all lead.

So, what's left for Orla to design?

She laughs heartily as I go through Orla Kiely's presence in my daily life - from my phone cover to the mug I drink my first coffee of the day from to her clothes, with their curious mix of retro and modern chic, which are also enjoyed by 'It' girls such as Alexa Chung and Kirsten Dunst.

When the Duchess of Cambridge, a firm Orla Kiely fan, wore Orla's bird-print dress back in 2012, it triggered a near meltdown on their website.

"But, Orla," I whine, "what about the shoes?" The footwear I'm referring to is Kiely's former collaboration with the high-street brand Clarks.

"I know, the shoes were great - that was a great collaboration," she says. "I guess we hit something with the shoes. They were great; I still wear them. They weren't just for a season. I still see people wearing them all the time."

So, where will the Orla Kiely handprint touch next, I enquire. "The newest thing for us - and we've done it before, but in a small way - is that we are about to do eyewear. I think it is looking really exciting, from spectacles to sunglasses. They will be ready to launch hopefully by September and they are looking cool, with vintage styling in a modern way."

The latest arrival on the Kiely fashion landscape to date has been L'Orla, a capsule range designed by Kiely with stylist Leith Clark. The pair are currently collaborating on their Resort 2018 collection.

Where does L'Orla fit in, I ask. Is it a little sister to the mainline range? "I think L'Orla goes further on femininity - so it's the very feminine sister," explains Orla, whose inspiration has always come with a strong, mid-century vintage vibe.

As they expand into different markets around the world, the response has been very favourable. "People are still discovering us, which is always nice. The stores are doing really well online too. It's nice to open up new markets, and people are responding well."

On the home front, Orla explains that they've done a number of interior projects recently, including the shops in South Korea and their New York store in Bleecker Street. They also designed an apartment in London, which features custom tiles in the Spot Shadow print. "Doing the apartment was an interesting project. It's in our old office and it was more of a base for family and friends to come and stay. We only finished it a couple of months ago - and it's definitely an Orla Kiely experience; there's no doubt about that.

"The photograph that Dermott took of me recently [pictured above left] was in the flat - it was a really nice project. It wasn't playing it safe; it was definitely pushing the pattern. It was personal and it was really fun to do. The bathroom is completely wraparound giant flowers and they look very cute - and very wow," she says.

When she's not working, downtime treats include long walks with Olive, the couple's labradoodle, "and we now have Ivy, a little version of Olive, and they are great.

"We go off on lovely long walks and they run around. I've also started playing tennis again. It's important to try and do things outside of work as well, and stay fit and healthy. That's the plan."

Weekend pursuits include cards. "I love playing cards, not bridge, but bridge-type, and no gambling involved. It's lovely to kind of sit around with friends - that's always good fun. I consider that quite relaxing."

In the office, Orla loves to listen to the radio. "I usually have BBC Radio 4 on, and things like Woman's Hour."

The couple's elder son, Robert, 21, is in Manchester studying history and politics, and their younger son, Hamish, 19, is very creative, according to Orla. "At the moment, I think he is going to be creative for himself."

What about the less creative among us? For people starting out decorating new homes, who might be worried about how to introduce print, Orla concedes, "Print is a funny thing. For me, a lot of it is about confidence and about believing in yourself. Some people can put it up and make it look fabulous. For other people, less is more."

When it comes to using print, she recommends, "If you are not quite sure what you are doing, definitely build it slowly. Sometimes I think it's better at the beginning to start with one thing that's the biggest statement and then build on that."

Committed Orla Kiely fans have come to adore the particular colours the Dubliner embraces with passion.

"I do have a palette that I love. But I have to say, in recent times, I've pushed out a little bit and brought in new colours. I love yellows and greens and oranges and reds and pinks - all of those colours together with browns and greys.

"It's the balance of the brights with the neutrals: I think that is really important to have a play together so they can all balance."

When I enquire about the colour of the hall door on her family home in Clapham, Orla reveals, "It's grey… but there's lots of colour inside," she hurries to add.

I wouldn't expect anything else from the Queen of Prints.

See orlakiely.com

Weekend Magazine

Editors Choice

Also in this section