Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Laura Ashley was a British fashion and fabric designer. The wholesome approach of Ashley to fabric design embodied the old-fashioned ideals of family , home and an unhurried environment where at bedtime someone always comes to tuck you in.
Not only because of her inspired talent, but also because of the alliance she had with her husband, Bernard, was the remarkable success of the multinational fabric and clothing empire that bore her name.
While the designer Laura Ashley continued to develop her multi-million dollar business with franchises all over the world, the woman Laura Ashley lived as a recluse. She wore her own designs and flew regularly with a set of her fabrics in her private aircraft with its interior decorated.
She shunned ads. In an interview during the early 1980s she said, “The idea of four babies, cooking, sewing, and looking after a home has fitted me perfectly.” When asked to describe the inspirations for her designs, she said, “Living remotely as I have doneI have not been brought up with the city influences and we have grown in our own way. I think the domestic arts are wonderful.”
The company began when Mrs Ashley and her husband set up silk screens to print placemats and scarves on their kitchen table in Pimlico, London, in 1953. She started to design linen tea-towels printed with Victorian playbills and posters in 1956, as a side line.
Victorian ruffled pinafores, old-fashioned smocks, feminine skirts and lace-trimmed nightgowns not only emphasise the practical point of view of Ashley, but also their return to the philosophy of nature.
And while the home furnishings series may have come straight from a Victorian farmhouse, in country and city homes, restaurants and offices, the coordinating selection of tiny floral prints, borders and ceramic tiles has found popularity.
The Ashley’s moved to Surrey in the early 1950s and then to Carno, Wales, the new headquarters of the Laura Ashley operation, in the late 50s. Bernard Ashley was made responsible for the company’s engineering and business aspects from the beginning, while Mrs Ashley continued to design.
In Wales, labour was abundant and industry flourished. Mrs Ashley found renewed inspiration in the countryside and planned to branch out to fashion aprons and house-dresses from household textiles.
In the late 1960s, she went into retailing, opening her first shop in London in 1969. Her uncle, Nick Ashley, took over management of the company when Ashley died in 1988.