that unique orla kiely glow

Saturday turned suddenly cold, after this heat wave in the UK, and I was stuck in traffic and rushing through the Oxford Street Saturday shopping circus, afraid I'd be late for my interview with Orla Kiely. When I arrived at Uniqlo I was greeted by posies. Pockets of posies at the entrance: sweet smiling spring flowers, like kisses. Then I rushed upstairs to meet her and her lovely team. Impressions of light, sparkling water, fresh strawberries and grapes. Simplicity and calm. Green and red against the neutral white, colours and patterns like her clothing downstairs, in the shop, being consumed like a fish feeding frenzy.

The first thing I notice about Orla Kiely are her eyes: palest blue, irridescent, knowing, wise, and kind. And then her smile. She's got the most amazing smile: it's that kind of Julia Roberts, beaming from ear to ear smile. And then I'm in Orla Kiely world, and the sun is shining.

We chatted at first about her collaboration with Uniqlo, in celebration of UT's 10 year anniversary. It is a perfect marriage of ideologies: she has two sons, and she's always shopped for them at Uniqlo. She spoke of the value for money, simplicity, quality, which is what struck me about my tee from the collection: it is so fine. Mighty fine. It feels.. well, it feels expensive.

And I was thinking.. Uniqlo is Japanese, and in some ways Orla's work feels Japanese to me. I can't explain. It also feels Scandinavian.. but while I was editing these photos, I found myself listening to Joni Mitchell, especially California, so I'm illustrating this piece for you with music that feels like what her designs sound like to me. But it also feels like London: King's Road, late Sixties.. Chelsea. Chelsea Morning.

Because I kept finding myself referencing music, during our chat. I see Orla like an artist, but also, what she creates.. it's like music. And then, uncannily, after, when we went downstairs and Orla was meeting her fans (something she is so modest about - and yet, clearly happily pleased), and freak serendipity: there was my wonderful friend Adrienne Johnson, huge Orla Kiely fan, who was drawn in by the flowers, shopping the collection! And she was talking to Orla, too, about music, about how we are drawn to people, designs, ideas, as if with our cellular memory.

And that's what hit me. That's it: cellular memory. That thing that draws us in: to a song. To a place. To Uniqlo, on a cold Saturday. To sunshine.

That's what I connect with about Orla Kiely. I don't even know the first time I heard of her, first saw her designs - we arrived in London in 1997, she started in 1995 - but her vision has been with her all her life. She is Irish, and as she was explaining, Ireland is an island. And it's hard to imagine the world we grew up in, but without internet, eBay.. the clothes she wanted, the things, patterns she saw.. she couldn't just press a few buttons and get things delivered to her world. That had to come later, when she created it. The Orla Kiely world.

It feels like a garden to me: the source, the well, from which her vision springs. Now of course she has a team, hand picked like the posies, surrounding herself with like minded, generous souls. Beautiful people, in every sense. This springs from a family that gave her great support, inspiration, love: talented people, not from the fashion world, but intellectuals, academics: they taught her that anything was possible. She remembered their kitchen, ground-breaking in the sixties, designed by an architect, olive green with an orange ceiling. It brought back memories of our kitchen in the seventies, how we excited we were to renovate it in graphic shades of 'pumpkin' and 'avocado'. As befitting a brilliant colourist, she thinks in colour. Memories of her grandmother driving a green mini: a prolific craftswoman, always making things with her hands. Showing her, not just in words, but by example, that women can make things. Make things happen. And that's when it hit me: she's not striving to be an artist, I don't believe. Not trying to shock and cause controversy, like a Damien Hirst, like an Alexander McQueen, or John Galiano. What Orla Kiely seems to be is a craftsperson. She could just as easily, as happily, be making clay pots. Or bread. Endless possibilities, being busy with her hands. Like her Gran.

And always, at core, the marriage. Because Orla's husband is her business partner. And the secret to their success is they have built this business organically, letting it grow without selling out to outside investors. Which means Orla owns her own name, as she should. They clearly work in harmony, with separate but equally vital roles. As she said, with the same simplicity and clarity as her designs: 'without him, none of this would be possible.'

I've been looking through not just the Uniglo collection, but the ORLA KIELY site itself. And it's not just pattern on pattern. A lot is solid, clean: navy and white, for spring as per look number eight.. oh, I'll shut up now, because this is the longest post I've ever done. I want everything.

As I fell asleep Saturday night, I was picturing my pretty posy on our coffee table, beautiful and alive for just a brief time, but that's the nature of spring, and then I started seeing patterns. Orla Kiely patterns, lulling me to sleep, like little sheep.

Orla Kiely for UNIQLO is in the shops now, or online. Thank you Ali and Liz at Modus, and MELANIE JANE CAMPBELL, for the smiles and the flowers.


Anonymous said...

beautiful colors, collection and images... wishing you Happy Holidays and lots of sunshine! xo

EnglishRoseFromManchester said...

Love this post and LOVE Orla Kiely pieces! Nice pics

Tinacious Me said...

what a great event! you looked so pretty!
xo, Tina

Emily said...

Those flowers are beautiful!!! I love the patterns and designs of the collection - sad not to have a Uniqlo near me - they are my new favourite high street store. Might have to do some (more!!) online shopping!!! :) xxx

Alexandra said...

Jill - this is why I read your blog. There is so much passion in this post, so much beautiful description and imagery, so much honesty and joy. This has informed, entertained and persuaded me. I agree that Orla seems more of a crafter than a designer who aims to shock the world with their pieces. People may gawk at Galliano designs but people actually wear Orla Kiely in their day to day lives. I am sure she is a joy to meet and chat to - I can tell by that knowing smile. Have a lovely week Jill, you deserve it. Alexandra xx

jill said...

Aw.. thank you, Alexandra. You have a lovely week too - you deserve it as well!

And thanks Jen, Some Kind.. Tinacious, sounds like you didn't actually read the piece, or you'd realise I haven't actually put a photo of MYSELF in it, but since you want the exposure for your blog, I won't delete your comment: we all have to start somewhere, and I'm flattered you chose me.

Emily: if you can't find an item online that you like from the Uniqlo collection, let me know which one (for example, 'third photo down, green leaf scarf') and I'll see if I can get it for you. After all, you've been so sweet and supportive! xx

Lawrence !!! said...

I really like Orla Kiely, She has a true recognizable identity! Did you get pick up some flowers Jill? ;)

Lawrence xxx

jill said...

Yes, sorry, Lawrence I didn't explain it: the last photo is my bunch, at home ; )

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Such beautiful, springtime colors! I can see the Japanese-Scandinavian thing going on. The prints sort of remind me of Marimekko.

I haven't been on the computer for weeks, so it's a treat to see lovely colors here! We are moving in to our place (ye-hey, after a year of renovation) so I'm immersed in boxes and cleaning. Hope you are having a terrific week! -- Jenny xxx

adrielleroyale said...

Seriously if I pass away before you, or think I will, will you do my biography?? You meet people and write so beautifully about each and every one of them that I want to meet them myself! You have such a wonderful talent of seeing the heart of people, the beauty in people...I just love it :) Much love, and Happy early Easter!

jill said...

Aw, Adrielle, I'd love to do your obituary! Presumably you don't have anything planned in terms of departing this world anytime soon. Hey... maybe that's my calling... obituary writer, like Jennifer Aniston's character in that film with Kevin Costner. And much love and Happy pre-Easter to you, too!

And Jenny: I swear I was just thinking about you! Will ping you an email later today. Thank you. xo

Nicola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
O D Y S S E Y said...

i see the japanese and scandinavian influences here. you're right - hard to explain it, though.
lovely detail shots.
another beautiful image of orla...and the flowers...ahhh. :)