Best known for her iconic, vibrant retro-style prints, the fashion and textile designer closed the curtain on a long life in pattern. “Stem” and her other designs appeared on bags, homeware and clothing. A senior fellow of the Royal College of Art , awarded an OBE in 2011 for services to fashion and business, she has also designed a refillable water bottle called the “Wottle“, which is a collaboration with the water filter company Brita. Sure, there is still something groundbreaking to come.
Mrs. Kiely, you get much of your inspiration from the 1960s and 1970s. Why do you find this era so inspiring?
The Prints are simplistic, bold and colourful, this appeals to my design aesthetic. Many of the furniture and homeware designs from this era were beautiful but still very functional. One of my favourite objects I own is the wooden monkey by Danish designer, Kay Bojeson – a beautifully simplified shape with legs and arms that move and bend with ease.
How did you come up with your successful idea of leaves pattern?
The ‘Stem’ was first designed in 2000 for S/S 2001. It was a spontaneous process, inspired by nature, from a simple Rowan tree stem and leaves. It was printed onto white cotton canvas made into skirts and soft bags. It wasn’t until the following season, when we re-coloured it and laminated the cloth for bags and accessories, that it things off. The bags became a very cool and functional product.
You design across so many areas. What’s your favourite?
I don’t have a particular favourite. I always appreciate good design whatever the object. There is a nothing more frustrating than a lazy product. They have to work on so many levels and it is always thrilling to see beautiful, thought through, resolved design.
How has your design aesthetic evolved over the years?
I was interested like many little girls in fashion. The first thing I ever designed was an outfit for my little sister when she was 7 years old, and I was 12. It was a burnt orange jumbo cord bomber jacket and a-line mini skirt – I even designed a little sling shoulder bag – a sign of things to come.
How do you usually work on your colour palette/scheme?
It depends on the season, but usually, we find it from many inspirational sources, e.g. exhibitions/books/artists/nature etc. Some people are very careful about adding vintage touches in their interiors.
Would you recommend an easy way to incorporate them into a home revamp project?
Vintage wall coverings are also a great way, back in the ’60s and ’70s they covered, whole walls and ceilings with wood panelling. Wallpaper with a coloured background sits so happily beside it. Mixing beautiful modern items with vintage, e.g. a beautiful vintage lamp base with a lovely modern lampshade.
Who/what inspires you in your work and why?
Mainly classic mid-century designers. Designers such as Eames, Verner Panton, Finn Juhls, Alvar Alto. Arne Jacobson is in my top 5. I loved that he designed it all, from the architecture to the textiles, furniture and objects – amazing talent and skill. Graphic designers such as S. Neil Fujita and Paul Rand. Fairs such as Design Junction are also a great source of inspiration.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a designer?
Work Hard. Try to do internships and get experience in a working design studio.
Can you name any young designers to watch?
The Royal College of Art is a great place to watch for new young designer talents. The Orla Kiely scholarship at the RCA was meant for nurturing the next generation of artists.
What was the first piece of furniture you bought?
I remember selecting a G-plan fitted wardrobe, dressing table and desk for my bedroom. I was very concerned that it fitted beautifully with no gaps. It was teak wood with white Formica and complimented the brown and white flowery wallpaper. This was the 70’s!
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Going to the Theatre, I try to go as frequently as I can, I find it relaxing and inspiring.
What trends do you think we should be looking out for?
I don’t follow trends. I usually like keeping an open mind. I believe in following my own instinct.