Orla qualified as a textile designer at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, and began her career working as a wallpaper and fabric designer in New York. The pre-digital climate of the mid-eighties, when colour creation and patter printing were painstakingly carried out by hand, gave Orla ‘the best colour training anyone could have had’ and instilled in the fledgling designer an appreciation for earthy tones that would later become the backbone of her iconic patterns.
Following this role, Orla moved to England to work for fashion brand Esprit, at which time she has also completed an MA in Knitwear at the Royal College of Art (RCA). A range of hats that she designed as part of her exit collection was purchased by Harrods, launching her into the exclusive London fashion scene. She returned to the RCA as Acting Professor to the department of textiles.
Subsequently finding great success with her handbags, it was when she began using laminated fabrics, which were only associated with table cloths at the time, that Orla’s career and reputation really skyrocketed, and in 1997 she launched The Orla Kiely Partnership with husband Dermott Rowan.
Her designs, which are heavily inspired by the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, centre around her iconic ‘Stem’ pattern, and are bold and colourful with an instantly recognisable dash of retro-charm.
Over the last few decades, Orla’s fun and timeless prints have achieved huge success, and her product range has diversified astoundingly. Her designs now adorn a vast selectin of items, including her clothing range (which boasts an array of celebrity fans such as Kirsten Dunst, Lily Allen and Alexa Chung), homeware, accessories, furnishings and even a range of cars.
In 2010, Orla was one of six contemporary, internationally renowned Irish fashion designers to feature on a set of postage stamps issued by the Irish government. Now living and working in London with her family, she operates her business out of a three-storey building in Clapham and her stores in Covent Garden and Soho, New York, also distributing to Europe, America and Asia.