Video: Vintage Fashion: How Designer Laura Ashley brought the world back to a "beautiful past"
2023 Author: Richard Flannagan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-24 13:10
It is difficult to imagine, but the world has not always been fascinated by graceful floral patterns, simple rural life and cozy family evenings by the fireplace. Our current vision of the "beautiful past" is largely the work of designer Laura Ashley, who made the entire planet fall in love with vintage.
Laura Ashley, nee Mountney, was born in Wales in 1925. She was raised by a Puritan grandmother - later it was the Protestant lifestyle that would become Laura's inspiration. When World War II broke out, Laura was not at all up to ruffles and floral patterns - she dropped out of school to … serve in the navy. In 1942, she met Bernard Ashley. They met at a party where the modest Laura … was hiding behind the piano. It was love at first sight - and a long, long engagement. Bernard was sent to serve in India, and the lovers parted for seven years, but their feelings did not fade away. When Bernard returned, they immediately got married - and it was not just a family union, but also a starting point in the creation of a real design empire.
The first years of their marriage were spent in London. Laura worked as a secretary, and Bernard worked in an investment company, but at the same time he was busy looking for a job as an engineer and was thinking of trying his hand at the literary field. One day, Laura found herself at a traditional craft exhibition, where she was completely fascinated by a patchwork quilt. She decided to sew the same - but was surprised to find that the stores did not have the right fabric. "And if something is not there, you need to do it yourself!" - thought Laura and plunged headlong into her new hobby. She sat for hours in libraries and museums, redrawing patterns and inventing new ones, and Bernard, seeing the enthusiasm of his beloved wife, took up the study of printing technologies. Laura recalled her grandmother's needlework, transferred into her drawings not only the motives of Victorian embroidery, but also, for example, illustrations from cookbooks - no one had thought of looking for inspiration for design among recipes before her!
After collecting all their savings, the couple purchased the necessary paints and linens, and soon the first batch of small squares of fabric with cute prints was ready. Gradually, the Ashleys began producing kitchen towels, handkerchiefs and napkins with nostalgic Victorian patterns. They enjoyed some success, but in London it was quite expensive to engage in production, and the Ashley family, meanwhile, grew - Laura gave birth to her third child. The tiny London apartment on the very top floor was not very comfortable for them. In addition, a conflict has matured in the family - Bernard was not interested in dealing with some kind of towels. Laura gathered the children and … left - only not to her parents, but literally to a tent camp on the river, where she spent three weeks. Bernard realized that his wife would not give up so easily.
After reconciling, they nevertheless moved to Wales, where they were able to purchase their first home and open a store. In her free time, Laura cultivated a small garden near the house - she never stopped thinking about work. She also stood behind the counter - until the opportunity to hire staff arose. Subsequently, Laura was always surprised when she was called a feminist. “I do not consider myself equal to men, because I am stronger than any man,” she said.
Over time, Laura decided to try herself in fashion design and created the first dress under the Laura Ashley brand, inspired by the images of the 19th century. The 60s were in the yard with their strict geometry, daring mini and short haircuts. Laura's romantic dresses contrasted sharply with the popular cuts and therefore stood out very much.
They fell in love with women who were nostalgic for bygone eras and did not find anything suitable for themselves. In fact, it was Laura Ashley who pioneered neo-romanticism, which was later adopted and brought to the grotesque state of the hippie.
The very first batch of Laura Ashley clothes created a real sensation - simple cut, tiered skirts, fluffy ruffles, cotton pleasant to the body … This allowed the family business to go beyond Wales, moreover, to spread to several European countries and enter the American market. Princess Diana herself confessed her love for Laura Ashley dresses.
In 1970, one of the brand's stores sold four thousand dresses per week - at that time it was a real record! By the way, the shops were decorated according to Laura's tastes - green facades, wood, cute vintage details. Thinking over the arrangement of stores, and then their new home - the Ashley family moved to the north of France - Laura began to design household items. Wallpaper, furniture, interior decorations from Laura Ashley with references to the style of Provence and the countryside of Great Britain were a great success.
Laura and Bernard tried to involve the children in business development, but family relationships were not going well. Children from an early age were educated far from their families - idyllic photos by the fireplace or near the window did not correspond to reality. Any family meeting ended in scandal. Eventually, Ashley Jr.'s involvement with the company became remote.
Huge production volumes, the first millions earned, several books about design, national awards, world recognition … But at the height of her fame, Laura Ashley suffered a stroke from which she never recovered. After her death, the inconsolable Bernard founded a foundation dedicated to promoting young British designers.
The Laura Ashley company exists to this day, although it has not been a "family" company for a long time. Children of Laura and Bernard Ashley still take part in its development, but designers are invited "from outside" - which, however, does not prevent the company from having a turnover of several tens of millions of dollars. As a designer, Laura Ashley had a huge impact on the development of modern interior design and costume, became a pioneer in neo-romanticism, and served as an inspiration for her colleagues working in the style of Provence and shabby chic.