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Introducing the Orla Kiely Brand – fashion, art and design
The namesake Orla Kiely brand was founded in 1993 when, after a successful graduate show at the Royal College of Art, she was commissioned by Harrods to produce a range of hats. This was soon followed by a range of soft accessories which developed and expanded to include a range of handbags, after her father noticed during her debut appearance at London Fashion Week that handbags were a much more popular accessory than hats. The brand collections continued to expand, and currently includes ready-to-wear womenswear, bags, accessories, fragrance and toiletries, homeware, paper products (including books, stationary and wallpaper) and the diffusion line ‘Orla Kiely etc’. The brand is also well known for its wide range of collaborations, including Heal’s, Habitat, Dulux, Citroen and Target.
The brand has an instantly recognisable design, which comes from the signature retro Orla Kiely prints, such as the iconic pear and stem design. The attention to detail and carefully chose fabrics has gained the brand a loyal following of ‘Orla Kiely women’ who are said to be creative, intelligent, stylish and not afraid of standing out from the crowd. Celebrity ‘Orla Kiely women’ includes Kirsten Dunst, Alexa Chung, Lily Allen, Helena Christensen, Keira Knightly and Scarlett Johannsson.
Orla Kiely snapshot history
- 1993: While working for Espirit, Orla Kiely graduates with her Masters Degree at London’s Royal College of Art. In her exit show, Kiely presents a line of hats, which prompts luxury department store Harrods to commission her to produce a range of hats, sparking the beginning of the Orla Kiely label. The hat collection was soon followed by a range of soft accessories, which also proved successful.
- 1994: In conjunction with her husband, Dermott Rowan, the Orla Kiely Partnership is formed. Orla Kiely shows her hat collection at London Fashion Week for the first time, securing her first order from Japan.
- 1995: Orla Kiely is appointed as a consultant to the design team at Marks and Spencer, a role she was to remain in until 1998 when she resigned to concentrate on the launch of her diffusion line at Debenhams.
- 1998: Orla Kiely launches her first collection for her diffusion line ‘Orla Kiely for Debenhams’, which proved to be successful. At one point, the label was selling 500 units per week. Also this year, the Orla Kiely mainline collection was shown for the first time at Paris Fashion Week, boosting the brand’s profile and helping to drive brand expansion into the US, Japan, Ireland, Hong Kong and France.
- 1999: A new Orla Kiely design studio is opened in London’s Battersea
- 2000: The brand’s legal company name is changed to Kiely Rowan Ltd and Kiely’s husband Dermott Rowan is named as the Managing Director.
- 2001: The Orla Kiely collection is shown by Palladio Associates in their central London showroom. Also this year, Orla Kiely receives the UK Fashion Export Award for Accessories.
- 2002: Orla Kiely teamed up with the Itochu Corporation to expand the brand’s presence in the Japanese market. Also this year, Orla Kiely launched its handbag and accessories diffusion line ‘Orla Kiely etc’, consisting of lower priced products than the mainline collection, with retro 1950’s and 1960’s inspired prints.
- 2003: The first standalone Orla Kiely store opens in Korea.
- 2004: It is a busy year for the brand. Orla Kiely launches an accessories collection in collaboration with the Tate Gallery and a homeware collection in collaboration with Sainsbury’s. Kiely is nominated for the Best Accessory Designer in the British Style Awards and wins the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Award. Also this year, the Company’s legal status changes once again from Kiely Rowan Ltd to Kiely Rowan PLC. Japanese partners, the Itochu Corporation, form an independent Orla Kiely Japan company.
- 2005: The Covent Garden, London flagship store opens and the first Orla Kiely website is launched.
- 2008: Orla Kiely receives the award for Exporter of the Year in the UK by the UKFE (United Kingdom Fashion Export).
- 2010: Orla Kiely is featured on an Irish stamp along with fellow designers Philip Treacy, John Rocha and Paul Costelloe. Also this year, Orla Kiely teams up with KMI Brands Ltd to develop fragrances under global licensing. included perfumeand home fragrances . The first Orla Kiely fragrance launches in June. Orla Kiely launches their first sunglasses collection in collaboration with eyewear label Linda Farrow.
- 2011: Orla Kiely collaborate with tech-giants Apple to create a range of retro-printed bags and sleeves designed to fit specifically around the Apple Mac computers. The brand also launches Orla Kiely designed digital radio in collaboration with Pure. Car manufacturer Citroen jump on the collaboration bandwagon as well.. The DS3 by Orla Kiely Collection was limited to a production run of 500 cars and consisted of four different body colours and 4 different rooftop designs. Orla’s signature stem or acorn patterns feature on coloured door mirrors, rear window graphics and black or white 17-inch alloy wheels. The Orla Keily signatures also feature inside the vehicle on the leather seats, dashboard and doors.
“Collaborating with Citroen and DS3 was such an exciting project as it’s so different from all my previous work. I love the designs we’ve created and the way they’re incorporated into the car” – Orla Kiely
Orla Kiely for Citroen
Orla Kiely for Pure
Orla Kiely: A Charitable Brand
The Orla Kiely brand has remained socially and environmentally aware throughout its history, collaborating with several charities to help raise funds. Recent charitable collaborations include:
- Target Breast Cancer Campaign: In 2008 Orla Kiely created a capsule collection for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer Campaign in aid of action breast cancer, a cause that is close to her heart. The collection is inspired by the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer bullseye symbol, which has been worked into a graphic print that shows Orla’s signature style. The line consists of a range of handbags and accessories and was sold exclusively through Brown Thomas boutiques in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
- Maggie’s: In 2009 Orla Kiely designed and created a limited edition bag and purse, exclusively for Maggie’s charity – a support centre for the crucial weeks after a cancer diagnosis. TV presenter Kirsty Wark and Texas singer Sharleen Spiteri had the idea for the collaboration after their fathers sadly died of cancer. Sadly, shortly after Kiely agreed to the project, her close friend Annette also died of cancer. As Annette was often described as a butterfly, Orla created a butterfly design as a tribute to her memory.
Visit the official Orla Kiely website here.