Birthday: September 7, 1925
Died At Age: 60
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil,, Wales
Famous as: Founder of 'Laura Ashley' Brand
Spouse/Ex-: Bernard Ashley (m. 1949–1985)
children: David Ashley, Emma Shuckburgh, Jane Ashley, Nick Ashley
Died on: September 17, 1985
place of death: Coventry, West Midlands, England
Cause of Death: Accident
Laura Ashley was a Welsh fashion designer and businesswoman. She came from a humble background of rural Wales, growing up in a service class and religious family. Ashley’s interest in designing was inculcated in her by her grandmother and it was in London when she was working as a secretary for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes that she started designing tablemats, headscarves, tea cozies, etc. as a part-time job. But her particular floral printed Victorian designs on headscarves became very famous and brands like John Lewis started to buy them from her. She expanded her little ‘work from home’ business into a small factory based business by then, which was only possible because of her husband, Bernard Ashley’s operational help. Soon ‘Laura Ashley’ stores and factories were spread across England and Europe and the whole Ashley family was involved in the business. Her phenomenal success in designing the clothes that were meant to suit the style and comfortability of housewives, inspired from the rural aesthetics of Wales, is commendable since at the time when she was getting popular, her designs were directly contesting with the in-vogue male-dominated style of clothing for women in the ‘60s.
Childhood & Early Life
Laura Ashley was born in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, and was raised in a civil service family as a strict Baptist. She was initially educated in Wales at Marshall’s School but was soon sent to Elmwood School, Croydon.
At the age of 13, she was sent back to Wales and was enrolled into the Aberdare Secretarial School. But she soon left the school and joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service in 1942.
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After serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, Ashley moved to London to work as a secretary at the National Federation of Women’s Institutes from 1945-1956. She had settled down in London by now with her husband.
Whilst working as secretary and looking after her family, Ashley also started taking development projects of her Institute like working on quilts and designed headscarves, napkins, tablemats, etc., a craft she had learnt from her grandmother.
Ashley and her husband, Bernard, spent �10 in wood for the screen frame, dyes and a few yards of linen and she started creating printed fabrics. She started to print Victorian style headscarves in 1953.
Quickly, her printed Victorian scarves became very famous and big retail brands like ‘John Lewis’ started asking for it. Ashley’s husband left his daytime job to cope with the growing demands of the family business.
She was in-charge of the design and Bernard took care of the operational side of the business. They hired employees and named the company as ‘Ashley Mountney’ but later Bernard changed it to ‘Laura Ashley’.
In 1955, they moved the new company to Kent and later moved it to Ashley’s hometown Wales. Their first shop was opened in Machynlleth, Powys. The Ashley family lived on the top of the shop for 6 years.
Soon more factories were constructed in the heart of Mid Wales and by the mid 1970s, designs from rustic Wales were being sold across Europe. Their business spread to cities like Paris, Geneva, etc.
By ‘80s, Ashley’s business expanded into home furnishing and now had around 5,000 retail outlets throughout the world. By this time, she was able to fulfill her dream of opening a shop in Cardiff, Wales.
Ashley’s most prominent work is the establishment of her fashion brand, ‘Laura Ashley’ with her husband. She started with designing scarves and ultimately set up a cottage industry that was worth 200 million pounds at the time of her death.
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Personal Life & Legacy
While working in London, Ashley met an engineer, Bernard Ashley, at a youth club in Wellington and got married to him in 1949. Bernard helped in realizing her dream of building up a business of her own.
The couple had four children together and all their children too were involved in the family business: David (designed the shops), Jane (company’s official photographer), Emma (company fashion designer) and Nick (also, company fashion designer).
In 1985, Ashley was visiting her children for the celebration of her 60th birthday and she fell down from her daughter’s home in Cotswolds and taken to hospital immediately but died after barely surviving for 9 days in coma.
She was buried in Carno, Powys, wales.
Her husband died of cancer in 2009.
This famous Welsh designer turned down the offer of an Order of the British Empire that she was offered in 1975 as she was upset that her husband was not offered one. But her husband was knighted after her death.
The Ashley family had a yacht, a private plane, the French Chateau de Remaisnil in Picardy, a town-house in Brussels and the villa Contenta in Lyford Cay, Bahamas.
The Laura Ashley Foundation was set up in 1987 by her husband in order to help young budding talent in realizing their dreams. It is still operational.
Bernard was posted to India, with the Gurkhas, while he and Ashley were in courtship. They used to communicate with letters.
Initially, many of their clothes were made by women in their homes, who were looking for extra cash.
When Ashley conceived the idea of printed fabrics, she used to live with her husband in Pimlico, London.
Their first factory was an old coaching house in Kent, London.