THE STORY BEHIND Orla Kiely’s Stem print
What started as a quick sketch went on to become an iconic pattern. Here’s how it all began…
It’s an instantly recognisable print that adorns cushions, bedding, kitchen clocks, handbags and even London buses – and, as its designer Orla Kiely says herself, the iconic pattern never fails to make people smile. Inspired by the simple shapes of the stem and leaves of a humble rowan tree, the Stem design immediately took off on its release 18 years ago, and soon became synonymous with the
Orla Kiely brand. ‘I had the idea for the pattern right in the middle of developing new print designs,’ remembers Orla. ‘It was a very quick sketch that became an instant hit.’
Growing up two minutes from the beach in Dublin, Orla was heavily inspired by the landscape of her native Ireland. ‘It was all the natural beauty from my childhood that influenced my taste for colour – green moss and seaweed, the greys and browns of rainy Irish skies, the mustards of the wildflowers found on the roadside,’ she explains. ‘The first colours I chose for Stem were shades of green, orange and yellow. Nature is a great source of pattern ideas, and my personal take on it has always been abstract and graphic.’
Orla started out as a hat designer – however, when her father remarked that all women had handbags, but few wore hats, she changed direction, pioneering her trademark laminated shoulder bag – the first product to showcase the Stem pattern. Homeware followed, starting with printed cushions, then moving on to lamps and furniture through a collaboration with Heal’s. Years later, and despite myriad copycat attempts by other designers to create a similar look, the original Orla Kiely Stem pattern still reigns supreme.
So successful is the Stem design that it has featured in every collection Orla has designed since its inception. This summer, her work is being celebrated with a special exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, which runs until 23 September, and at which one of the highlights is a set of original sketches for the Stem pattern.
Although Orla has become a major player in the fashion world, the Stem design will always remain part of her future.‘It’s evolved over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the feelgood moment people have when they see it,’ she says. ‘It’s such a versatile print, and we’re constantly reinventing it and thinking of new ways to use it.’
CLOCKWISE FROMABOVE A selection of Orla’s LinearStem kitchenware; the Multi Stem tea towel, £15, showcasing the pattern in a palette of greens, greys and pinks inspired by the hues of the landscape in Orla’s native Ireland; a selection of mugs in a variety of designs and colours; all orlakiely.comFOR STORE DETAILS SEE WHERE TO BUY