Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 13:24 UK
Laura Ashley: a fashion for nostalgia
Laura Ashley
We normally find that a design will not sell very well unless we have a nostalgia of the past about it
Laura Ashley

The woman who gave her name to an elegant, nostalgic brand of clothing and design, harking back to an idyllic rural past, came from Merthyr Tydfil.

Laura Ashley - nee Mountney - was born in Dowlais Top but grew up in Surrey, raised in a civil service family as a strict Baptist.

Educated in London, she was evacuated to Wales in 1938 for about a year before returning to the capital.

She met Bernard Ashley at a youth club in Wallington and they married in 1949.

The seeds of their success were sown on their kitchen table in Pimlico, London, where scarves designed by Laura and produced using Bernard's silk screen were sold to a variety of outlets including the John Lewis department store.

With other retailers taking an interest, Bernard gave up his city job to manage the new family business.

In fact, the company was originally called Ashley Mountney, before Bernard realised that his wife's full married name would be more marketable for their product range.

At first sold by mail order as well as in department stores, Laura used rustic, romantic fabrics with flowery patterns.

Bernard and Laura Ashley

They relocated from London to Kent in 1955 but almost went out of business three years later when the River Darent overflowed and flooded their premises.

Laura was keen to return to her native Wales which had provided the inspiration for much of her work.

Success spread and factories were opened across north and mid Wales to cope with demand for Laura's elegant take on the 'flower power' of the Sixities.

The first shop under the Laura Ashley name opened in Pelham Street, South Kensington, in 1968, while the company headquarters settled in Carno, near Newtown.

With a style described as a feminine reaction against the sexist fashions of the 1960s, success soon spread abroad, with some 5,000 outlets worldwide stocking her product by 1981.

But in 1985 she died in tragic circumstances, ten days after falling downstairs in an accident at her daughter's cottage on her 60th birthday.

Laura Ashley
The Laura Ashley name is seen on high streets throughout the world

With the bereaved Bernard at the helm, a planned stock market floatation went ahead two months later, valuing the company at around £200 million.

However, changing styles and attitudes meant that Laura Ashley products began to fall out of favour, and rival manufacturers competed with cheaper products made abroad.

Financial difficulties in the 1990s led to the company employing a series of executives who attempted to turn the company's fortunes around, with mixed results.

Factories in mid Wales were closed, followed by the headquarters at Carno, as production was moved to the far east. Sir Bernard died in February 2009, aged 82.

Despite the recent troubled times, Laura Ashley remains a world-famous brand, with the Merthyr Tydfil designer having made a remarkable impact from her kitchen table.

Audio: the story of Laura Ashley
09 Oct 09 |  Arts & Culture
Laura Ashley mansion up for sale
01 Oct 09 |  Wales
Laura Ashley sculpture unveiled
01 Jul 09 |  Mid Wales
Funeral for Laura Ashley founder
24 Feb 09 |  Mid Wales
Ashley closes first Welsh store
12 Jan 08 |  Mid Wales
Laura Ashley museum tribute opens
10 May 07 |  Mid Wales


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific