Whilst working on the Summer dresses I bought out one of my Mum's original 1980s Laura Ashley dresses. I remember going to the outlet shop in Street, Somerset when I was little and Mum adoring these voluminous skirts on brightly coloured polka dotted dresses. I remember a lot of fabric!
Mum would always treat herself to one of these dresses that came with a matching bolero. Due to her ultra petite size the dresses always looked very much the boho ideal of the early Laura Ashley designs. The skirts nearly sweeping the floor, loosely fitting and combined with her waist length hair the look was romantic rural cool. It was far from the stuffed porcelain doll image of the 80s bridesmaid those dresses evoked.
I look back nostalgically on these Laura Ashley dresses from the early 80's not just because my Mum adored them but because of their quality. The cotton was really heavy, the skirts had deep pockets (which meant a lot) and they were made in a small factory in the UK. They felt really special.
Later on as a collector I kept Mum's dresses, some of which she may retrieve and wear again this Summer, and I collected more from the 1970s. The dresses that have the true Edwardian style, full length with ruffles and lace. These again have this same special Merchant Ivory feel. The dresses also hold the label 'Made in Carno, Wales'.
So I bought the book written by Martin Wood (which is wonderful!) and pulled out the old Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating which I also pawed over a child. I just loved the plants inside the cosmopolitan bathrooms and day beds. I my head they were all in New York, not the country despite all the florals.
Not already knowing the story it turns out that Laura Ashley most certainly was as special as the label and dresses made me imagine. The business started at the kitchen table, Laura wanted to live in the countryside, wanted to invest in small towns and people where there was unemployment and build a sustainable cottage industry. Her story really is of ethical fashion which could be applied today.
Together with her husband Bernard they built a fabulous business producing excellent quality clothing and beautiful fabrics and home furnishings. They traded on romance. Sadly after Laura unexpectedly died in 1985 the dresses were never quite the same again.
There is an Ashley Family Foundation designed to support the rural Welsh communities that supported them so well.
Read The Style Bubble article on a trip to the archive here . The Photos are gorgeous!