Ashley in the 1960s.
7 September 1925
Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil,
|Died||17 September 1985
Coventry, West Midlands, England
|St. John the Baptist Church,
Carno, Powys, Mid Wales
|Education||Marshall's School, Merthyr Tydfill
Elmwood School, Croydon
|Spouse(s)||Bernard Ashley (m. 1949–85) (her death)|
Laura Ashley (7 September 1925 – 17 September 1985) was a Welsh fashion designer and businesswoman. She originally made furnishing materials in the 1950s.She later expanded into clothing design and manufacture in the 1960s. The Laura Ashley style is characterized by Romantic English designs—often with a 19th-century rural feel—and the use of natural fabrics.
Although her Welsh parents lived in London, just before her birth, her mother returned home to allow Laura Mountney to be born Welsh at her grandmother's home, 31 Station Terrace, in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil. She was raised in a civil service family as a Strict Baptist. The chapel she attended in Dowlais (Hebron) was Welsh language and although she could not understand the language, she loved it, especially the singing. Educated at Marshall's School in Merthyr Tydfil until 1932, she was then sent to the Elmwood School, Croydon. She was evacuated back to Wales aged 13, with so many World War II evacuees there were no school places left, and she attended the Aberdare Secretarial School. In 1942, she left school at 16, and served in the Women's Royal Naval Service. During this period she met engineer Bernard Ashley at a youth club in Wallington. After the war, Bernard was posted to India with the Gurkhas, and the pair corresponded by letter. From 1945 to 1952 she worked as a secretary for the National Federation of Women's Institutes in London, and married Bernard in 1949.
While working as a secretary and raising her first two children, she undertook some development work for the Women's Institute on quilt work. Taking up the craft she had learnt with her grandmother, part-time she designed headscarves, napkins, table mats and tea-towels which Bernard printed on a machine he had designed in an attic flat at 83 Cambridge Street, Pimlico.
The couple had invested £10 in wood for the screen frame, dyes and a few yards of linen. Laura's inspiration to start producing printed fabric came from a Women's Institute display of traditional handicrafts at the Victoria & Albert Museum. When Laura looked for small patches carrying Victorian designs to help her make patchworks, she found no such thing existed. Here was an opportunity, and she started to print Victorian style headscarves in 1953.
The Ashleys' scarves quickly became successful with stores, retailing both via mail order and high street chains such as John Lewis - Bernard left his city job to print fabrics full-time. This put them on the road to becoming an international company with a brand that is recognized around the globe. Laura designed the prints and Bernard built the printing equipment; Laura remained in charge of design until shortly before her death, while Bernard handled the operational side.
Employing staff to cope with the growth of sales, the company was originally registered as Ashley Mountney (Laura's maiden name), Bernard changed the name to Laura Ashley because he felt a woman's name was more appropriate for the type of products. The new company moved to Kent in 1955, but when the third of their four children was born, the family moved to Wales in 1961, the country where Laura was born and had spent much of her childhood.
Laura Ashley's first shop was opened in Machynlleth, Powys (35 Maengwyn Street) - it still trades as an interior design shop, and the Laura Ashley association is commemorated by a small plaque. The family lived above the shop for 6 years before moving to Carno, Powys.
In 1975 Laura turned down the offer of an OBE (she was upset Bernard had not been offered one). Her husband was knighted only after her death; hence she was always Mrs. Ashley.
The addition of a home in France enabled Laura to go back to her roots of fabric design, and the company launched its home furnishings collections.
Two months after her death in 1985, Laura Ashley Holdings went public in a flotation that was 34 times oversubscribed.
Laura and Sir Bernard were a great complement to each other, both inside the business, and in their personal lives. Laura had four children, and loved family life, but the expansion of the business meant the need for an escape point, and for creativity. They bought a house in France in the early 1970s. Sir Bernard's qualification as a pilot enabled them to keep in touch with family and business.
The Ashley children were all involved with the business. David (born 1954/55), the eldest son, designed the shops; one of the daughters, Jane was the company photographer; another daughter Emma and their second son Nick were part of the company's fashion design team. Sir Bernard Ashley was the company chairman and Laura kept a close eye on fabrics. The astonishing success of what proved to be the ultimate cottage industry, meant that the Ashleys could afford a yacht, a private plane, the French Château de Remaisnil in Picardy, a town-house in Brussels, and the villa Contenta in Lyford Cay, New Providence, Bahamas, later purchased for $8.5 million by T. J. Maloney.
In 1985, on her 60th birthday, while she was visiting her children in the UK, Mrs. Ashley fell down the stairs of her daughter's English country home and was taken to hospital in Coventry, West Midlands; she died 10 days later of a brain haemorrhage. She is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, in Carno, Powys, Wales.
A memorial plaque to Laura on their former home at 83 Cambridge Street was unveiled on 5 July 1994.
Sir Bernard died of cancer on 14 February 2009.
The Laura Ashley Foundation was set up in 1987 by her widower to help individuals realise their potential and release talent. The Ashley family are actively involved in its day-to-day running.
- "South East Wales Arts - Laura Ashley". BBC. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
- "Copestake and Mounteney Newsletter 2". Freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
- Walker, John. (1992) "Laura Ashley Style". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed.
- Michael Small "Cut from the Same Cloth as Mom and Dad, Laura Ashley's Kids Get All Wrapped Up in the Family Business", People 22:13, 24 September 1984
- "Laura Ashley’s French Chateau | PrimeInternational". Primelocationblog.com. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
- "Property Details - Villa Contenta - Nassau/New Providence". Damianos.com. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
- "Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006". Findmypast.com. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
- Malaysian magnate leads English rose to the block, The Age, 29 June 2005.
- City of Westminster green plaques http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/leisureandculture/greenplaques/
- "Sir Bernard Ashley dies, aged 82". BBC News. 16 February 2009. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
- Laura Ashley company (requires Macromedia Flash)
- in the FMD Ashley's entry in the Fashion Model Directory
- National gallery portraits
- Funding Universe article on Laura Ashley plc
- Designer portrait on Rosenthalusa.com
- Laura Ashley Fireplaces 2010