A Life In Pattern

Her designs have featured on hats, handbags, clothing, a range of Citroën DS3 cars, and even a London bus. Irish-born designer Orla Kiely's stylized graphic patterns are instantly recognisable and have helped to make her name as one of the most successful designers in the UK. Now, London's Fashion and Textile Museum is showing an exhibition that celebrates Kiely's "life in pattern". 

The exhibition, which opened in May, explores the way that decoration and ornament affect the way we feel and the way we live our lives. Featuring original paper sketches, patterns, products and some of Kiely's most celebrated collaborations, Life in Pattern tracks the designer's career from her beginnings in Dublin to the present day. 

Kiely has previously stated that her grandmother was the most important creative influence in her life. Perhaps it was her grandmother who then inspired Kiely to study textile design in Dublin, before moving to New York to work in wallpaper and fabric design. Another move took her to England, where she studied for her Master's degree at the prestigious Royal College of Art. Recognition came when the hats Kiely displayed at her RCA exit show were purchased by Harrods. 

Kiely's career began with hats but moved to handbags in the 1990s - allegedly after her father pointed out at her first London Fashion Week that few people wore hats, but everyone had a handbag. She began creating handbags from laminated fabric: a move that showed her to be a true innovator. Since then, Kiely has been made Honorary Fellow of the British Institute of Design and an Honorary Doctor of Norwich University of the Arts. She has also received an OBE.

The A Life in Pattern exhibition highlights these moments and many others from Kiely's creative life so far, but it also offers an insight into the designer's world, work process and sources of inspiration. 

On until 23 September 2018 at the Fashion and Textile Museum. For more information, visit

Blog post by Jessica Edney

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