Laura Ashley was either a place you loved or loathed being taken to as a child of the early 1980’s. For me, it holds memories of shopping for special occasions, wearing beautiful high necked frill blouses, sailor suits and feeling generally rather spiffing. Not to forget forging my first inroad into interior design with their home decor range. As an adult, I am having a serious renaissance with Laura Ashley original womenswear, but as for the interiors style, well lets say, I'll leave that to the eighties. 

Laura Ashley’s story is certainly inspiring for any creative parent. With determination, a small seed of an idea can be cultivated into a successful business given the right passion and direction. Influenced by both family and history, her Grandmother’s quilting skills as well as a Women’s Institute collection of traditional crafts at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Laura Ashley’s fabrics and prints were unique as was her style.

From simple beginnings in 1953, producing Victorian style headscarves she progressed to garment production after moving to Wales at the start of the sixties. Initially making smocked gardening aprons and tops which were found to be worn by customers as day wear, this was an early sign that the beauty of her designs were irresistible. The combination of fabrics with unique prints and beautiful free flowing dress designs created a winning and outstanding formula. 



At their peak In the 1970’s women queued at her London store to invest in sweeping Laura Ashley Prairie dresses which epitomised a sense of freedom of the era. My Mother recalls that there were lots of loose ends, crooked hems and shock horror communal changing rooms, but we didn't care, we couldn’t get enough. The women making the clothes gradually improved their skills and it all became a sensational  success. She still has a needlecord folk dress that was her go to garment when expanding beyond belief, pregnant with me and my twin brother.


Laura Ashley’s original dresses for both women and girls are still undeniably unique, always delightfully exquisite to study and more so to wear. 


It’s these original Made In England and Wales pieces that we search for and love. They carry with them the romance of their original Victorian influence along with so many layers of craft and dressmaking history that speaks volumes.  Telling the tale of a time when garment production was a slower, more considered process, these pieces were made in an era before the fashion industry uprooted much of it’s production from small towns dotted throughout the UK, to move overseas in favour of fast production and cheaper labour.  From the early 1980’s much UK manufacturing was outsourced. We are only just beginning to see a return and desire by considered brands to bring production closer to the source of inspiration and design.

I know that where making a choice between vintage and contemporary childrenwear that there is such ease in dressing our children in the type of jersey outfits that are so readily available now, but, I cannot help being drawn to, and falling in love with beautifully cut dresses that when worn awaken storybook images and a sense of nostalgia. 


December 14, 2018 — anna-louise plumb