Thursday, October 01, 2009

Laura Ashley- I Hardly Knew Ya

Today's book reviews involve two designers- one who I thought I knew well, and the other who I knew not at all.

I loved Martin Wood's book on Nancy Lancaster and devoured his follow-up on John Fowler (who didn't?!). So when I heard that his next subject was Laura Ashley, I was intrigued. Intrigued because Wood was writing it, and curious about what made Laura Ashley a compelling subject. Well, let's just say that the last time I was taken with anything Laura Ashley was back in the 1980s- but I'm enchanted by her, her story, and the look once again.

Welsh born Laura Ashley and her husband Bernard got their start in the apparel and textile business in the early 1950s when they began to print fabric in their home. The business took off with a line of small neck scarves that became all the rage. Tea towels followed, but it was their garment line that took the company to an entirely new level- and made Laura Ashley a household name in Britain and beyond.

Of course many of us fondly remember those Laura Ashley dresses that we wore as children (they were a little Laura Ingalls Wilder-ish, but hey, it's better than some of the clothes little girls are wearing today), but did you know that Laura and her husband were innovators? Bernard insisted on selling their fabrics alongside the garments, something which people felt would never work... but it did and quite successfully. And many of their prints were actually a bit edgy looking, a far cry from the traditional florals that many of us associate with the house. Who knew? I certainly didn't.

The book is chock full of photos of various clothing collections (the Venetian Collection was pretty fabulous) as well as color photos of their prints. But for me, the best part are the photos of the Ashley homes. If you swoon for very British interiors, trust me, you'll have a ball reading this book.

Remember this photo? Diana was wearing a Laura Ashley skirt.

Laura Ashley fabrics c. 1972.

The Ashley dining room in their home in England.

And for you Francophiles, a guest bedroom in the Ashley's French chateau

And the designer who I wasn't familiar with? John Minshaw. And what a nice surprise this book was. John Minshaw Designs is a wonderful introduction to a designer whose work is classical with a twist. There is a brief biography of Minshaw- important for those of us who are new to the designer- but the monograph is mainly a compilation of project photos. No need for me to write anything else because I think the photos will do Minshaw more justice than my writing will.


  1. Super interesting post. Love your blog. Laura Ashley was the bomb then. Minshaw is very clever I love the juxtaposition of his work.
    Thanks for introducing his work to me.

  2. I love that image from 1972 and can't wait to read the Laura Ashley book. Oh the memories. Remember the original little shop at Lenox with the creaky wood floor? Some of the home catalogs were super lush too.
    I'm getting in the 80s spirit today.

    It's funny, I just realized that your sister is named Laura and mine is Ashley :)

  3. It was Laura Ashley who took me by the hand and taught me about creating soft furnishings and upholstering walls. My young son hated LA, especially when he was forced to spend time with me in the Kansas City store. One day all that flowery stuff came crashing down, and he screamed at the top in his lungs, "Not every body loves Laura Ashley, Mom!" I gave him the eye and replied, "No, they don't. Only those with good taste." The ladies in the store applauded. To this day, it is one my best memories of Laura Ashley.

  4. I used to work in a Laura Ashley store in Florida in the '90's...I was able to get wallpaper and fabric discounted that I used to decorate my home. It is still popular in Britain...I just recovered an old chair with faded Laura Ashley fabric that I adored with new Maine Cottage fabric (pix on my humble blog). Must get the book!

  5. Was a time when I dressed almost exclusively in Laura Ashley, and a lot of my house wore it too. I guess I was a bit of a groupie, I even visited the original shop in Wales.

    Marjorie in Carmel

  6. I still have a stash of original Ashely catalogs. I was trying to do a paper on the company for a textile design class in the 70s and when I wrote to them, all the info they sent me was in Welsh! I have to say, however, that I have been very disappointed in the text of Martin Wood's books. So don't know if I'm willing to purchase another one.

  7. John Minshaw designs are just perfect. I love the image of the foyer so polished.

  8. Thanks for the introduction to John Minshaw...not sure how I'd never heard of him, but his work is fantastic. Another book to add to my wishlist!

  9. Oh, Laura Ashley! You will probably not be surprised to learn that I worked in a Laura Ashley store during high school, and came back each summer when I was in college. I remember selling and wearing those close, straightening those hangers, and measuring out the yards of fabric...great to read this post!