A Look Back at the Iconic Designer’s Career

Laura Ashley’s inspiring story is built upon a foundation of entrepreneurial ambition, creativity, and traditional values. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we wanted to take a look back at the woman who celebrated authenticity and being the romantic heroine.

This vintage Laura Ashley poster had the words “The Romantic Heroine”.

Mrs. Ashley’s dedication to quality and originality made the Laura Ashley brand synonymous with beauty and design. Her vision defined British style then and today.

A rarely seen photo of Laura Ashley taken by Nick Barlow at one of her family estates wearing the Moire evening dress.

Her designs featured soft, feminine prints and patterns, combining floral motifs and geometric prints. Mrs. Ashley’s style quickly gained popularity among those who sought a more romantic and nostalgic aesthetic. Her influence extended beyond fashion into home decor, where her designs were used for bedding, wallpaper curtains, and upholstery.

Embark on a journey with us as we trace the brand’s humble beginnings to its current status as a global lifestyle icon.

The Legacy of Laura Ashley

“Eccentricity is often rewarding,” Mrs. Ashley once said.  She wasn’t swayed by city influences and loved the pastoral life of the country. Laura Ashley’s designs were heavily influenced by her love of nature and the English countryside, as well as traditional Welsh and English heritage. Her love of Victorian style was reflected in her iconic designs, which are still celebrated today with the iconic prairie dress and the Cottagecore or Grandmillenial movement. 

The Victorian-style dress that Mrs. Ashley made famous is often called the “prairie dress”.

An early sketch of a signature Laura Ashley dress with ruffle details.

How Laura Ashley Built a Successful Company from the Ground Up

The global lifestyle empire had humble beginnings.  Bernard and Laura Ashley started their business in 1953. When Mrs. Ashley was 28, she was inspired by a traditional handicrafts exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Using a £10 investment to make their first screen-printed scarves and tea towels, the company got its start in their kitchen. In 1959, she added a gardening apron and smock that got the attention of The London Sunday Times, which then catapulted the company into the fashion industry.

Laura Ashley and the British Style Revolution:

Her husband, Bernard Ashley, and their four children played a significant role in the growth and success of the Laura Ashley brand. Notably, their daughter, Jane Ashley, became the company photographer, and her photos established the look of the brand and the spirit of a generation in the 1970s, and many of them are still used today.

Mrs. Ashley and models featured in signature prairie styles. Ditsy floral prints were often
featured in fashion and home decor.

In 1976, when Jane Ashley was working as the company photographer, she asked her friends from her time studying Art at Hammersmith College to model the latest Laura Ashley collections. Those friends later became some of the biggest names in punk; Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash and Viv Albertine from the Slits. Shot at The Clash’s rehearsal studios in Camden and the surrounding area, their rehearsal space at this time was a disused railway warehouse.

Photography by Jane Ashley: Paul Simonon of The Clash and Viv Albertine from the Slits.

Photography by Jane Ashley: Paul Simonon of The Clash and Viv Albertine from the Slits.

How Her Designs Capture the Spirit of the Times

It didn’t matter what decade; Mrs. Ashley’s prints and designs spoke to a generation and were timeless by not conforming to trends but by simply making what people wanted. By 1955, the company’s prints were so popular, Laura and Bernard Ashley produced about 300 yards of fabric a day.

This neoclassical hand-printed tablecloth was produced in the 1950s.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mrs. Ashley mixed popular styles and patterns of the era with a classic English romance, harking back to her country upbringing.

By the 1980s, an engaged Princess Diana was famously photographed in a Laura Ashley skirt. Later in 1991, Bride Magazine published a photo of model Kate Moss wearing one of the brands’ romantic wedding dresses.

Before her marriage to Prince Charles, now King Charles, Princess Diana was photographed by Charles de la Court wearing this iconic Laura Ashley skirt, which catapulted the brand to one of the most desirable fashion brands thanks to the ‘Diane Effect’. Kate Moss was photographed by Michael Wooley for Bride Magazine in 1991.

The Enduring Appeal of Laura Ashley

Long before there was the term “lifestyle brand”, Laura Ashley famously said, “More than a brand, we are a lifestyle.” Quintessentially British, her designs were also romantic. Whether designing a fashion collection or a home collection, Mrs. Ashley’s vision was distinctly feminine, mixed with a romanticised view of life. Her strong vision still exudes a romantic feeling that you can still see in the collections today.

Mrs. Ashley’s romantic style can be seen in these vintage photos.

Laura Ashley’s Influence on Home Decor: A Look at Her Timeless Designs and Patterns

Laura Ashley’s designs were unabashedly romantic. Filled with florals and graphic prints, Mrs. Ashley embraced colour and pattern. In 1981, the first Home catalog was published, and in 1983 The Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating was published, cementing Mrs. Ashley’s influence globally. The images in the book and the catalog became hugely influential for interior designers for generations 

The Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating changed how people decorate
their homes internationally.

The August 1976 issue of House Beautiful featured Mrs. Ashley’s
home and her romantic style.

This sunny yellow room was originally photographed for a 1989 catalog.
The original Bloomsbury room collection from 1987 was shot in an artist’s London studio.

Mrs. Ashley’s romantic vision can be seen in this dreamy bedroom
from our 2023 home collection.

How Her Designs Continue to Inspire Today

The iconic floral prints that the heritage brand is known for continue to inspire fashion and home decor collections today. Many of the prints and designs have been reimagined in fashion collaborations with notable designers and brands such as Batsheva, Lucky Brand, Urban Outfitters, Barbour, Rag & Bone and Baggu.  In addition to home decor such as wallpaper, bedding, dinnerware and glassware, Laura Ashley prints are also refreshing kitchens, mudrooms, bathrooms and laundry rooms with a British sensibility with the tile collection available at The Tile Shop.

Lucky Brand X Laura Ashley launched two collections in 2023 by reimagining feminine style.
Fashion designer Batsheva Hay has partnered with Laura Ashley on five fashion collections featuring prints from the Laura Ashley archive.

The 2024 home collection offers a fresh take on the English country style made
famous by Mrs. Ashley.

Remembering the Designer Who Defined a Generation of Style

Sadly, in 1985, Laura Ashley passed away. She is sorely missed by family and friends. Her creative vision is still very much a part of the work today.

Mrs. Ashley in a signature white blouse with ruffle details.

Tell us about your Laura Ashley memories. Do you remember wearing a dress to a fun event or falling asleep in a bedroom decorated in Laura Ashley? Comment below, tag us @lauraashleyusa or use the hashtag #lauraashleyusa.