A Patterned Life

I have always been in two minds about the work of Irish designer Orla Kiely. On the one hand I like the simplicity of her stylised plant inspired designs, but on the other I find some of her colour choices a bit dour, and then there is the matter of merchandising.

A small exhibition currently open at the Discovery Centre in Winchester, Hampshire, UK focusses on her output and features design pieces from across her career. The exhibition was organised by the Fashion and Textile Museum and the opening wall text panel claims that it shows how Kiely “walked from the Minimalism of the 1990’s into the colourful world of 21st century pattern. This exhibition offers a privileged insight into how she creates a characteristic look for our era.” (Exhibition wall panel, text by FTM, London).

Retro styled shoes from Clarks

Entering the exhibition via the stairs from the library the stairwell is flanked by two gigantic coats designed by Kiely in her signature patterns. Once inside the single room is not large, but is filled with examples of her work. One wall is covered with handbags, something that she became well known for, this wall must contain one example of every bag she ever designed. It is certainly the showstopper.

The bag wall

Opposite this are a group of mannequins wearing examples of clothing designed by Kiely. What stuck me most was how old fashioned the designs are. I think that others might say ‘retro’, but I think that really old fashioned is more appropriate and this includes the fabrics the clothes are made from. Lots of synthetic fibres making then more in line with fashions from the late 1960’s and 1970’s that filled my own childhood and teenage years. Many are again in drab colours, which the fabric does little to alleviate, which is a shame as the actual designs themselves are full of fun.

Retro styled dressed and coats from the Orla Kiely collection

There cannot be anyone in the world that has not seen a Kiely design given that her work has appeared on wallpaper, bedlinen, homewares and even a Citroen car. the most popular design is called ‘Stem’ and features a single stem with pairs of simple oval shaped leaves covering it’s full length. The actual designs are simple, but really only variations on a theme – a simple 4 petal daisy, the paired leaf stem and a basic cup shape manipulated in size and colourways, they are instantly recognizable and have an obvious easy aesthetic which can be applied to practically anything.

The Winchester exhibition features some tiny dolls set in small plastic wall mounted boxes which, together with the oversized garments, form an installation created specifically for the exhibition, elaborating on a play with scale. Each miniature doll wears an exact replica of one of the giant garments, the intention being to highlight Kiely’s love of the unexpected – a lace trim, plastic flower button detail or a floral pattern picked out in jacquard. Complimenting the mini dolls, there are two giant wooden dolls that let visitors ‘design’ their own Kiely based garments. The whole oeuvre is playful, and I enjoyed the exhibition, but I can’t help feeling it is not wholly original, for me there is too much of the designs of 1960’s Mary Quant and Biba about it.

Mini doll exhibition installation
Giant coats flank the entrance to the exhibition
Design your own Kiely collection

The exhibition is free and can be seen at the Discovery Centre, Jewry Street, Winchester until 5 January 2020.

20th Century Gothic

It’s been several years since I last visited Nymans Gardens, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I visited recently.  The weather wasn’t great, which was a shame for the middle of August, but although overcast, the rain did manage to hold off while I was there. 

The basic layout of the gardens hasn’t changed, but what had changed was the amount of activities there were available for children.  Nymans has lots of lovely wide open space which is ideal for children to run about in, and it was heartening to see that the team at Nymans has recognised that fact and come up with various garden activities including activity trails and games such as giant Jenga, skittles and croquet.  All this child friendly activity doesn’t detract from the formal garden areas where the interest is more adult orientated.  The Rose Garden had almost finished, with just a few blooms left, while the long border was looking suitably spectacular full of late summer flowers such as phlox, rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), dahlias and sunflowers.

Wild meadow planting at Nymans Gardens

What had changed since my last visit was the house itself.  A charming country house dating back to the Regency period, the house was remodelled first by Ludvig Messel to reflect his Germanic roots, and later by his son and daughter-in-law Leonard and Maud.  Sadly, on the night of Leonard’s 75th birthday a fire broke out destroying much of the house, with only a small part being saved.  About half of the original property still stands a ruins giving the property a romantic, gothic feel . With only 4 or 5 rooms available to visitors, there was still plenty to see and helpful room guides were pleased to chat about the past occupants and to show interested visitors a selection of albums showing the house as it was before the fire which destroyed most of it and Messel family. The upstairs has now been turned in to a gallery space showing the work of a Polish artist, Mariusz Kaldowski  depicting views around the garden and estate.

The main room have been dressed out as the house would have been in the early-mid 20th century when the Messel family were in occupation.  One of the ‘funest’ things is the stage curtain surround that has been placed around the television set.  The Messel family were very keen on theatre. 

TV ‘Theatre’ (with another scary lady portrait above)

There are several portraits of quite scary looking females which sort of reminded me of Rebecca in the eponymous Daphne Du Maurier.  

One of several ‘scary’ looking female portraits wearing period costume

I was impressed with the small collection of blue and white china displayed in a side room, and had to laugh when, as I was leaving, a man entering remarked that I looked like I had escaped from the room – I was wearing a blue and white striped dress! 

Blue and White china display

Currently the property is trying to raise money to create a special garden in the ruins of the house left behind after the fire.  Some work has been carried out to make them safer, but general public access is not permitted.  The picture here shows the charred remains of the library of rare and specialist botanical books collected by Leonard Messel.  A fitting place to site a brand new garden.

Burned library at Nymans

I enjoyed my visit to Nymans, the property has undergone some changes which make a real difference to the visitor “experience” and the staff and volunteers I came across were all very friendly and knowledgeable. It’s a lovely place and I would thoroughly recommend it.