Designer Orla Kiely’s “surprise” with Carole Middleton’s dress to visit baby prince

Irish designer Orla Kiely has spoken of what a "pleasant surprise" it was to see Carole Middleton wearing one of her designs to visit her newborn grandson, Prince George of Cambridge, for the first time.

Carole’s choice of dress during the high-profile visit to St Mary’s maternity hospital in London last week – which was in front of the world media - meant that the Orla Kiely designed dress became a must-have within hours.

The down-to-earth Irish designer described the moment as a “pleasant surprise” – and she didn’t anything about it beforehand.

In her only sit-down Irish interview, Kiely praised the Middletons' style, her A-list fan base and her favourite things to do in Ireland on the rare occasions she visits home from her London base.

Upon meeting Orla, her jet-setter lifestyle is immediately apparent.

She is in Dublin on a whistle-stop tour to mark the launch of her exclusive collaboration with Kenco Millicano, in which she has designed an Eco-travel mug with the coffee brand. And just last week, she was in New York promoting a collaboration with US department store Target. All with a broken foot.

"She must have had the dress and decided to wear it," she explained. "I did think she looked great. She's very elegant and slim, and has good style. She was radiant on that particular day."

Caitlin McBride and Orla Kiely
Caitlin McBride and Orla Kiely

Has she also seen a boost in sales as a result of the 'Kate Middleton effect' (the phenomenon in which everything Kate wears sells out nearly immediately) "I don't know about that! But it does create great awareness and that's always important.

"We don't 'dress' people as such, but we have certain people who like the brand so they go for it. Keira Knightley is one. Alexa Chung is another, which is great because she's such an ambassador of fashion. It's lovely to see anybody wearing the designs and enjoying it."

While she is based in London, she makes an effort to visit home about three times a year to see her family still living here. And family is clearly the highest priority of her agenda.

Her business partner is her husband Dermott Rowan, and speaks proudly of her two teenage sons, Robert and Hamish.

"Dermot and I are still going, and it's going strong," she said.

"It's really great to have that relationship with somebody. Our goals are the same, to educate our children etc, and we're both aiming for the same thing."

As for her sons, she says: "They're getting older now, so they're doing their own thing. They're in that 'cool' phase now because they're teenagers."

Kiely may be one of the biggest names in fashion, but she is inherently reserved, and said that she rarely gets recognised on the street.

"It doesn't happen that often, so I'm always a bit surprised, pleasantly, when it does," she explained.

"The funny thing is when 'Orla Kiely' is mentioned, they're not referring to you, they're referring to a product, which is kind of strange. I think it's a good thing though. I'd much rather promote the work rather than the person."

It's of little surprise that she describes herself as a "perfectionist" when it comes to her work.

"If my name is attached to it, I want it to be perfect. I really push myself so that I'm happy and it's a good product that we are putting out there."

And where does she get her inspiration from? "Inspiration with print comes from lots of different things for me. I love researching the 50s and 60s and the art of the time, graphic design, textile design and the fashion of that era. For me, that's hugely inspirational. Then there are modern elements and finding funny little ideas to adapt it to our style."

Orla Kiely's designs are regularly seen on the red carpet and runway, but this living fashion legend is just as happy to see a 'normal' woman walking down the street in her pieces.

"It does bring a smile to my face," she says of recognising her work on someone in her day-to-day life. "I think it's always nice. It inspires you to keep going and do more.

"In the end, I just work season to season and it's very much grown organically. It's just making sure every season that we do the best that we can. I get quite bored so it's important for me to ensure we're constantly doing new things. That's what drives me. For me, it's not how big can we be, but rather can we be the best at it."

Before she returns to London, preparing for the launch of her highly anticipated autumn/winter collection, Shankill-raised Kiely spoke of her affinity for home, and the beach.

"I try and get home as often as I can, maybe twice or three times a year. I have young family here. Seeing family is the most important thing, but I absolutely love to go for a walk on the beach. I couldn't do it this time because I have a broken foot, but where I grew up was a two minute walk from the beach. That's something I don't have in London. I grew up in Shankill, and the walk from Shankill to Killiney - there's nothing like it."

For details on availability of the Orla Kiely Kenco Millicano travel mug, see www.kenco.ie.

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