British textile designer and entrepreneur, whose nostalgic rural ‘look’, based on floral cottons in Victorian and Edwardian styles, captured a worldwide market.
Born in the Welsh iron-making centre of Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil, Laura Mountney served in the Women's Royal Naval Service and worked for the National Federation of Women's Institutes. In 1949 she married Bernard Ashley, with whom she established a home-based business making tea towels, table mats, and furnishing materials based on authentic nineteenth-century designs. Motherhood refocused her attention on the design of clothes and encouraged her to launch a manufacturing and retailing business, which – thanks to her husband's mastery of printing technology and business strategy – expanded from a disused railway station in the small Welsh village of Carno to the first Laura Ashley shop in London's Kensington, which opened in 1967. Laura Ashley rapidly became synonymous with merchandise of simple good taste, which attracted the custom of many young middle-class women. Over the next twenty or so years the business grew rapidly: by the time of her death, from an accidental fall, the company owned eleven factories in Europe and the USA and 225 shops worldwide (which included an enthusiastic following in the USA and Japan).
After Laura Ashley's death, tastes changed and the business seemed to lose its way, largely as a result of the absence of her influence and the appearance of many competitors. This forced severe retrenchment and a departure from her implicitly homespun idealism as production was relocated from rural Wales to rapidly industrializing Asia. Simultaneous withdrawal from the fickle arena of fashion in favour of refocusing on her original concept of interior decor seemed to offer a safer path towards corporate salvation in the 1990s.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Industrial and Commercial Art.