Hilary Alexander OBE explored the early life and beginning of Orla Kiely’s career in the last talk of day two! With Hilary and Orla centre stage, mannequins adorned with Orla’s iconic designs surrounded them, as two screens flicked through her intricate print designs. Orla began her career designing hats and bags, now the brand Orla Kiely sells internationally. Her inspiration comes from her love of print wallpaper mainly from the 1950’s and 1960’s. 

During the talk, Orla revealed that, “I’ve always been quite graphic in my print.” When asked further about her Royal College of Art education, she says “If I hadn’t of studied textiles, I probably would have been a graphic designer.” Whilst starting up her small business from the kitchen table, Orla worked full time, 5 days a week at Marks & Spencer, and has managed balancing a family life with her brand from the help of her husband, who doubles as the financial director for the company. Orla describes her prints as “very clean and orderly,” which includes of the iconic stem pattern, used multiple times in different variations across her designs. 

Hilary asked Orla “what challenges are they (graduates) facing as a print designer in 2018?” to which Orla responded, “I think it’s important for them to have their own style.” The atmosphere was vibrant and intrigued by the conversation, and the opportunity to learn from an established and talented textile designer meant the audience was full. 

Orla’s exhibition ‘A Life In Pattern” at the Fashion & Textiles Museum in London, is where you can find 10ft tall dress designs and a village resembling ‘Alice in Wonderland’ according to Hilary. 


Words by Emily Bone 

Photography by Stefan Jakobowski