Orla Kiely, the London-based design firm headed by the Irish-born designer Orla Kiely and her husband, Dermott Rowan, is one of the great success stories of the 2000s. The cleanly designed clothes, accessories and household furnishings, featuring fresh 1950s-, 1960s- and 1970s- inspired prints, are sold across the globe, their cheerful colours and playful optimism flying in the face of ergonomic gloom.
In 1997, Kiely, who had initially trained in knitwear, set up a design studio in South London. The breakthrough came in 2001, with the production of a series of soft fabric bags that featured her now famous Stem pattern.
Against the backdrop of the sullen raincloud-handbags then usually on offer, the Stem design – with is nod towards the abstract mid-century modern textiles of designers such as Lucienne Day, was like a cool summer breeze. To Kiely’s surprise, the style even translated well into her winter range, with the use of darker tones – brown and cream, dark khaki and olive, Bordeaux and pink, and daringlz, laminated cotton, even if it was widely associated with wipe-clean tablecloths.
The Stem design has since become the signature pattern on the Orla Kiely brand, and has developed unlimited variations in a range of scales and multiple colors. In 2009, Kiely created a special edition, Butterfly Stem, for the British cancer charity Maggie’s.