Laura Ashley was a Welsh stylist who was born in 1925 and died in 1985, she started her company from scratch with her husband Bernard Ashley.
Bernard and Laura met when she still worked as a secretary and he as a stockbroker. They got married in 1949 and soon had two of their four children.
The company was born after a visit by the couple to an exhibition of traditional handicrafts at the Women’s Institute at the Victoria Albert Museum in London, which inspired Laura a lot. When looking for fabrics to make a bedspread, Laura ended up being frustrated because she found none that pleased her. The couple then decided to produce their own fabrics, with original designs.
With 10 euros, Bernard bought a wooden frame, canvases, dyes and fabrics so that Laura could start working on the prints. With many trips to the library, where she could rent books on fabric printing, and the materials they had purchased, Laura could finally start her new work at her kitchen table. Because she had little space and a limited number of materials, she started to produce square fabrics of small size.
Laura started by transforming these small fabrics into tea towels, kitchen sets, napkins and other products that didn’t need a lot of material to be made.
When Laura started her first pieces, she liked to make products that were used by the women who took care of their home. This was an important characteristic for the brand, since even today its stores sell wallpapers, bedding, tableware and towels with her original designs. Soon, she found the style she is known for today, the delicate and feminine florals and the reference to 18th and 19th century patterns.
When taking a trip to Italy at the time of the premiere of the film “Roman Holiday”, with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, the couple realized that the scarves used in the film by Hepburn were very copied by the Italians and had become a trend there.
It was then that Laura started producing scarves, since they were also a type of product that used little fabric.
The company started by being called Ashley Mountney (both Laura’s married and maiden names, respectively), but Bernard decided it would be better to change the brand name to Laura Ashley, as it matched more with the style of the delicate products they sold. Until then, the couple made their sales exclusively by mail.
With the success of the scarves, the company could grow and was soon selling to big stores. In order to increase production, the family moved, in 1955, from London to Kent, in the interior of England.
It was also with this growth that another important characteristic of the brand was adopted, the use of fabrics made with 100% cotton, a fact that was only changed in the early 1980s, when the use of cotton blend fabrics and the use of jersey started being made.
In 1958, the brand opened a showroom in London where it was exhibited all sorts of items, from fashion to decorative products and textiles.
In the 1960s and 1970s, with the emergence of the Flower Power movement, the brand gained more recognition since the designs made by Laura were the delicate florals and rural clothes that were in fashion among young people of the time.
After Laura’s death in 1985, the company went public. It continued to be run by her family, and her husband Bernard (who went on to become Sir) remained its president until 1993, when he became its president for life. Her children continued to work with the creation of stores and new products.
Today the brand still exists and is run by a Thai group.
Bibliography: Allan, Georgina O’Hara; Fashion Encyclopedia: From 1840 to the 1990s: Companhia das Letras, 2010.