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Yesterday’s announcement that Orla Kiely is closing is especially sad because I grew up with the brand. It defined my early thirties, or more specifically, the birth of my first son in 2000. At that time her bags were the totes to tote - for starters, they were much cheaper than most designer rivals (Mulberry et al) - and I proudly spent my maternity leave swinging a red and white printed number around London’s nappy valley.
Kiely started out as not as a fashion designer, but as a trained wallpaper and fabric designer, and to me, she stood for something. I knew her as the queen of prints; a little bit retro, yet quite streamlined and minimalist for her time. Her motifs were instantly recognisable; especially that signature oversized stem print, and although her vintage-y style echoed what many other boutique brands of the time were also doing - Cath Kidston in particular - but Kiely was so much cooler than Cath, a fact that came in handy later on in the playground after my son had started school.
Kiely later diversified into bed linen and even later, into cookware, radios and stationery and I actually still have a duvet cover and a couple of cushions in my sitting room. I’ve never stopped loving the prints. You can tell an Orla Kiely pattern a mile off, they’re so distinctively her - but did they become so ubiquitous that they lost their aspirational edge? Perhaps so.
What I do know is that, in my circle of my friends, we’re all quite sad at the news. Orla Kiely joins a list of many clothing brands who have become retail casualties of our times - Issa, Banana Republic, and BHS, to name but a few.
I am relieved to hear that her prints will live on in homeware, though, and also that there are efforts underway to keep parts of the business afloat. The label holds so many memories of my time as a young mum, and I still have a skirt and two bags of hers stored away in the loft. Yesterday, I briefly considered dusting the bags off and popping them on eBay. But then I remembered they are stained with carrot puree and this made me sad again.