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'When Kate Middleton Wears One Of Your Designs, You Get A Boost': Exclusive Interview With Orla Kiely

3 April 2012

Orla Kiely’s beautifully graphic, Sixties-style prints are unmistakable – and so clever that they are applied to all manner of surfaces, not only fashion but wallpaper, stationery and now, thanks to Uniqlo, T-shirts! In the biggest ever designer collaboration with UT in the ten years it’s been going, the range has almost all but sold out so get yourself online or to the shops soon to bag a bargain Orla Kiely piece! We caught up with the lady herself about prints, hats, bags – and dressing the Duchess of Cambridge...

Grazia Daily: So how did you become a designer? We heard you were making hats in the early days...

Orla Kiely: Well – it was a mixture of things. After training at the Royal College of Art, there was a point I was hand-making various things, both hats and bags. Then when my father was with me at London Fashion Week that year, he - now famously - pointed out to me, ‘It seems like everyone here has a handbag, but hardly anyone is wearing a hat’, ha ha! So we came up with a specific type of bag that we were really happy with. Then we got a factory to make them and went from there.

Grazia Daily: How cool! The unifying theme through all your work is your print design. Vivienne Westwood once said that she so enjoys designing prints, because it’s therapeutic. What do you think?

Orla Kiely: Yes, creating something new is always enjoyable. I must say though, some designs are instant – very quickly you know it’s going to work and that’s great. Then other ones you really have to spend a long time going back to it and working on it and that’s tough.

[Related feature: Kate and Carole Middleton share the same dress - who wore it best?]

[Related feature: How the 'Duchess of Cambridge' effect is helping UK fashion in the US]

Grazia Daily: How have you found the experience of working with Uniqlo?

Orla Kiely: Wonderful. Every stage has been a pleasure really, I think the two companies are a good fit. I mean – their designs are so great, and many of their shapes are quite simple, quite classic. Then we’re coming at it with colour and print and in my opinion when you have a bold print, you don’t want too much else going on.

The other reason that working with on this project has been good is the chance to go back through my archive and choose some old prints that were only used once, and get them back out. I’ve enjoyed that.

Grazia Daily: It’s a global project, isn’t it? What countries have sold out?

Orla Kiely: Japan. We do really well in Japan, the USA, New York, France it’s done really well. Everywhere there’s a Uniqlo!

Grazia Daily: What is your favourite piece from the Uniqlo collection?

Orla Kiely: Ooh! I love the shift dresses! They’re fab. You can style them up for the cold weather, with tights and a long sleeve top under it, or wear it when it’s sunny...  Ooh, and the scarves too!

Grazia Daily: With all your wonderful homewear ranges, wallpaper, the fashion and the stationery and everything like that, what is the most unusual item that’s been covered in an Orla print?

Orla Kiely: Well, we did a car. The car was a challenge! In fact, the strangest thing was not something I made myself. There’s a wonderful digital radio that comes in an Orla print. But bizarrely, a fan made a cake version of the radio and did the print in icing. So intricate! I thought that was very funny and quite unusual. 

Grazia Daily: You’ve had the Royal stamp of approval with the Duchess of Cambridge wearing not one but two of your outfits...

Orla Kiely: Well yes. That’s been a lovely thing to happen. And because Kate [Middleton] chooses her own outfits, she isn’t put into things. So yes, it was nice. I think she looked amazing in the dress and then she wore another one really soon after. She’s gorgeous, she looks amazing whatever she’s wearing.

And yes – when Kate wears one of your designs you get a boost. The phone was ringing off the hook – email went, and one of my team counted over 800 Google alerts in that time! The only thing was, it was the end of the season so we didn’t have so many of the dresses in stock. But it’s a nice thing to happen.

Grazia Daily: What do you think of the new generation of London print makers, like Mary Katrantzou?

Orla Kiely: Digital printing has taken off so much, it really is a huge thing now. I like Mary Katrantzou, I think what she’s doing is fantastic. The reason that she’s so good is that she’s used the technology, but very much made it her own. I think that is why she’s so successfully compared to other people who use digital printing, but somehow it can all look a bit samey. It’s got to be about the design itself, I think.

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