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…

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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

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