Absolutely admires the latest works from Orla Kiely at the Fashion and Textile Museum in the first exhibition dedicated to the celebrated designer

Words Georgia McVeigh

The Fashion and Textile Museum’s Orla Kiely: A Life In Pattern is the first exhibition dedicated to the celebrated designer. Drawing on an archive of over 20 years of work, the exhibition ‘brings it all together under one roof in a celebration of design, print and colour that has become the Orla Kiely brand’.

The exhibition will follow Orla’s work through the framework of her greatest tool – pattern. Orla’s patterns can work on any scale, allowing the exhibition to focus on distortions of size, creating an extraordinary Alice in Wonderland feel. Dresses, for example, will be reimagined to tremendous sizes and displayed alongside tiny dolls in replica outfits.

With unique access to the brand’s archives, the exhibition offers a privileged insight into Kiely’s world. Her inspiration is made evident throughout the exhibition with each design drawing on the essential organic elements that are the foundations of her repeating patterns – the abstract natural world. Her paired down plant shapes and animal designs reveal a simplicity that captures only the essential aspects of the form.

Patterns of the 1950s and 1960s by designers such as Shirley Craven and Lucienne Day are another inspiration for Kiely’s work. With her use of natural motifs, colouration and big bold outlines, the designer’s work can also be seen within a historical trajectory of artists like William Morris, Voysey and Marimeko.

As well as charting the growth and success of the Orla Kiely brand, the exhibition explores Orla’s childhood in Ireland and how this environment influenced her work. Her love of colour, from the greens and greys of vast skies to the browns and mustard yellow of the rolling hills and gorse, all pay homage to the colours of the Irish countryside. Rare family photographs and ephemera will be displayed alongside Orla’s earliest designs.

Kiely’s fashion will be showcased on the mezzanine gallery, with over 30 full outfits displayed on mannequins and complemented by a whole wall dedicated to Orla’s iconic handbags. Orla presented her first ready-to-wear collection in 2003 using simple silhouettes that allowed her prints to stand out and have since been worn by household names such as Emma Thompson, Scarlett Johansson and the Duchess of Cambridge.

With a global audience in thrall to the instantly recognisable and stylised graphic patterns of Kiely’s work, the exhibition has become a must-see for those willing to explore the power of decoration and the changing look of the 21st century environment.

Orla Kiely: A Life in Pattern is on now until 23 September 2018; ftmlondon.org 

Feature image credit: AW10 Ready To Wear Campaign. Copyright Orla Kiely.