Designer Orla Kiely's decision to shut was a bolt from the blue - but it's unlikely to be her last act
As Ireland's most commercially successful fashion designer ever, Orla Kiely's dramatic decision to shut her retail business this week was a bolt from the blue.
It was also a huge blow to staff, suppliers and a legion of fans. It's unlikely to be the last act in what had been a stellar career for National College of Art & Design (NCAD) graduate Kiely, and her husband and business partner Dermott Rowan.
Accounts for their UK-based business Kelly Rowan PLC, which is now in liquidation, make clear that the brand name 'Orla Kiely' is owned by the couple, separate to that company. It will remain a prized asset.
The brand was being used under licence by their own trading business, and separately for homeware and accessories collections for the likes of John Lewis - which is not affected by the closure.
That means reviving the brand, launching new design lines through a new company of their own or under licences, will be pretty straightforward.
Still, the collapse of their retail and wholesale business late on Monday, is a huge blow to Orla Kiely, the Irish designer who had created a massive lifestyle brand starting with one stylised leaf-and-stem print and a range of 'must have' bags.
Her rise was secured with unbuyable endorsement from fans like Kate Middleton and Alexa Chung, catapulting Kiely into the affections of Britain's smart-set over the past decade.
More recently, the proliferation of Orla Kiely branded products and a shift into the mass market may have diluted the cachet somewhat, but if so, the accounts show little sign of it.
Sales at Kiely Rowan PLC were £8.3m (€9.2m) last year, up from a dip to £7.2m in 2016. The business was profitable up to the most recent accounts - for the year to the end of March 2017. As directors, Orla Kiely and Dermott Rowan were paying themselves a healthy, though hardly outrageous £200,000 each a year.
The major dark cloud was just over £2m owed to the UK business by its US subsidiary, which included the costs of setting up a store on New York's hip but expensive Bleecker Street in 2016. That shop was shut earlier this year, and is likely to have left the bulk of its inter-company debt unpaid.
In fact, while Orla Kiely's designs may be known globally, Britain's well-heeled 'Sloan Rangers' remained the core market - accounting for a whopping 70pc of sales.