Laura Ashley (1926 – 1988) was a British fashion designer who turned her style into one of the most successful programs in the home market. The traditional country appearance has become a hallmark style that has been frequently imitated in tone and theme. Before her death and subsequent economic losses, she also created a successful business.
Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Laura Ashley was a British fashion and fabric designer. Laura Ashley was one of the first British designers to experiment with lifestyle marketing. Her romantic vision of nineteenth-century rural life, adapted to modern domestic realities, inspired a generation of middle-class Britons who returned to country life in the 1960s and 1970s. The wholesome approach Ashley had to fabric design embodied the old-fashioned ideals of family, home and an unhurried environment where someone always comes to tuck you in at bedtime.
Not only because of her inspired talent but also because of her alliance with her husband, Bernard, which 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 worldwide, the woman Laura Ashley lived as a recluse. She wore her designs and regularly flew with a set of 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 done has not been brought up with the city influences, and we have grown in our 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. As a sideline, she started designing linen tea towels printed with Victorian playbills and posters in 1956.
Victorian ruffled pinafores, old-fashioned smocks, feminine skirts and lace-trimmed nightgowns emphasise their practical point of view of Ashley and 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 responsible for the company’s engineering and business aspects, 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 entered retailing, opening her first shop in London in 1969. Her uncle, Nick Ashley, took over company management when Ashley died in 1988.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Laura Ashley announced that it would file for administration in 2020, putting 2,700 jobs at risk. After struggling for several years, the company blamed its problems on a “significant” drop in trade, with no end in sight to COVID-19.
Gordon Brothers, an investment firm, announced on April 22, 2020, that it had acquired the Laura Ashley brand name, archives, and intellectual property rights out of administration. They announced in October 2020 that they would return with a flagship store in the Westfield Shopping Centre in West London in 2021 and a series of new stores through Next’s 500 UK stores and website.
In 2023, three years since voluntary administration, it is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding and preparing to relaunch its fashion arm. Sales of furniture and homewares are bouncing back under new deals with Next, DFS and John Lewis, but they are still about half the level they reached before the collapse.
Shop Laura Ashley
Butler, S. (2023, January 31). Poppy Marshall-Lawton: bringing Laura Ashley back into fashion. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/jan/31/poppy-marshall-lawton-bringing-laura-ashley-back-into-fashion
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Czerwinski, M. (2009). Fifty dresses that changed the world. Conran Octopus.
Dormer, P. (1999). The illustrated dictionary of twentieth-century designers: the key personalities in design and the applied arts. Greenwich Ed.
The 20 most influential people of the last 20 years. (1999). Home Textiles Today, 4-10. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/trade-journals/20-most-influential-people-last-years/docview/223046569/se-2?accountid=10344
Wikipedia contributors. (2021, May 13). Laura Ashley plc. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 07:35, May 18, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Laura_Ashley_plc&oldid=1022978422
Design Books – Amazon
* This website may contain affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission when you click on links at no additional cost. As an Amazon and Sovrn affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Design Basics Index
Made for Living: Collected Interiors for All Sorts of Styles
Heated Words: Searching for a Mysterious Typeface
Logos that Last: How to Create Iconic Visual Branding
Designing Liners: A History of Interior Design Afloat
French Art Deco by Jared Goss
The Art of Critical Making
Iconic: Modern Australian houses 1950-2000
More on British Textiles
You may also be interested in
Theo Moorman British Weaver and Designer – Encyclopedia of Design
Theo Moorman was a devoted artist with a lifetime of experience. She created her technique over a wide range of designs and textural combinations, exploring its potential. A new invention was every piece of work, and they were always full of vitality.
Alastair J.F. Morton (1910 – 1963) British textile manufacturer and painter – Encyclopedia of Design
Alastair J.F. Morton (1910 – 1963) was a British textile manufacturer and painter. He studied at Edinburgh University and Oxford University. Morton joined his family’s Morton Sundour Fabrics in 1931 and oversaw the company’s first screen-printed fabrics.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires – Encyclopedia of Design
by Ashley Spires (Author, Illustrator) Ashley Spires, an award-winning author and illustrator, has crafted an adorable picture book about an unnamed girl and her very best friend, a dog. The girl has a brilliant idea. “She’s going to make something Magnificent! She has a good idea of how it will turn out.