When news broke a little over a year ago that Laura Ashley was the first victim of the High Street pandemic, I broke into little pieces too.
Because if there are two words that arouse feelings of nostalgia, it is Laura and Ashley.
As a teenager in the 1970s, the flagship store just off Sloane Street in London was a beacon of opportunity. I still vividly remember the first Laura Ashley piece I owned: a purple smock that cost £ 25, a fortune for a schoolgirl at the time. I wore it over a sweater (knitted by mommy) in the winter and over a Chelsea Girl T-shirt in the summer.
My sister had a navy blue and white polka dot maxi skirt with a circle crust hem. Felt the epitome of laid-back, ladylike cool, we refused what we had grown up with seeing our two older sisters struggling to fit in: tiny A-line shifts, short skirts, and white tights.
Liz Jones reflects on Laura Ashley’s history as the brand’s homewares launch online and in select Next stores. Pictured: vintage Laura Ashley
Oh, what were we looking for damask smock with needle cord, thick maxi cardis, puffed sleeves, jumbo cord jackets, brown cord shorts with a voluminous smock at the waist.
My mom made me brown hot pants, but they weren’t the same. There was no Laura Ashley label proudly proclaiming Made in Wales.
The brand started in 1953 at Laura Ashley’s kitchen table. Laura loved an exhibition of quilts at the V&A, but had a hard time finding fabrics. And so she bought a silkscreen for £ 10, some paint and some linen, and printed it herself.
Her first item on sale was a printed cotton scarf. The brand kept getting stronger. She opened her first store on Pelham Street, South Kensington, in 1968. In 1970, the Fulham Road store sold 4,000 dresses a week.
In the 1980s, after we bought our first home together, my sister and I graduated from Laura Ashley wallpaper and upholstery, introduced by the brand in the early 1970s.
No wall was complete without a flower border on the ceiling. No surface was left unharmed: a teapot, a mug, even a pair of oven mitts.
We have created a country house in the middle of Brixton.
But crucial was that we were no longer wearing the clothes. I had just started working for a young women’s magazine, where the uniform was a power suit in a primary color.
Liz said those who were initially fans of Laura Ashley moved on as rivals in the High Street mushroomed the brand. Pictured: Tapestry Floral Wallpaper
In the next two decades, I only set foot in a Laura Ashley store once, and that was to spend the voucher I had received from the brand’s PR. I searched and I searched, but all I could bear to take home was a candle.
The brand had turned poisonous. Not just because the founder was killed in a terrible accident – she fell down the stairs in 1985, at the tragically young age of 60. But also because the women had moved on. They wanted to look sexier and more powerful.
Rivals on the High Street – from Warehouse to Whistles to Joseph – sprang up like mushrooms.
Laura Ashley has tried to reinvent herself several times. Notably in 2007, when it re-released a selection of classic designs, but in more modern, more malleable fabrics and colors, such as dove gray.
And again in 2013, when it raided the archives – leading me to think it had no new ideas – classic designs reissues, including the very first scarf from 1954, this time in silk.
But in March 2020, it would close 70 stores permanently, with plans to cut 268 office jobs and leave more than 1,500 employees.
Liz said the Laura Ashley homeware collection includes signature prints, indoor and outdoor furniture, lighting, mirrors, and more
While we’ve lost many great brands in the past year, Laura Ashley’s demise has hit those of us of a certain age hard.
But the good news is that Laura Ashley is back! After being rescued by Gordon Brothers, the global consulting, restructuring and investment company, you can now buy Laura Ashley homeware online and at select Next stores – 48 in all.
Best of all, the news that a flagship Laura Ashley store opened on Monday in Westfield, West London, covering 3,000 square meters – half! – from the huge Next store there.
The collection features Laura Ashley’s classic and recognizable home accessories, as well as a range of new designs.
Products include signature prints, indoor and outdoor furniture, lighting, mirrors, upholstery, custom curtains, wallpaper and more.
Once again the archives have been searched, with iconic and instantly recognizable prints such as Magnolia Grove (in natural, slate and dusky sea spray), Animalia (in dark steel, silver and blush) and, most iconic of all: Josette, with chandeliers and roses ( in sage and sea spray). New prints are Tapestry Floral and a very over-the-top Eglantine Rose.
Liz described the Laura Ashley collection as colorful and busy, ideal for those looking to add something summery to their home
Prices range from £ 40 for a pillow to £ 2,150 for a large sofa. My favorite pieces are a lantern ceiling lamp, £ 235, and a Seaspray chest of drawers, £ 760.
Everything is conveniently grouped by color and there is a design center, where you can scroll through every print and color and ask a real person for help.
It’s the opposite of minimalist Scandi chic. Instead, it is colorful and busy.
Some people might wonder why you want your living room to be like Giles and Mary’s or Gogglebox (that print is being discontinued, but Willow Leaf is very similar). But, when I’m addicted to white walls and mid-century furniture, it’s strangely reassuring to browse the collection in the airy new store.
You might even run into Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, given her choice of maximalist interior designer, Lulu Lytle, and rooting out the simple, monastic ‘John Lewis nightmare’ of previous No. 10 incumbents.
Women now choose flowy, floral tea clothes to express their joy at being able to socialize. Maybe it is also the right time to add something summery to your home.
Best of all? The highly anticipated reissue of the Garrat Cocktail Cabinet, £ 1,125. To quote Alison Steadman in that 1970s classic Abigail’s Party: “You want a top-up, Tone?”
Never underestimate Laura Ashley’s ability to read our mood.
Home renaissance: the best of the rest
DVF TEAMS WITH H&M
Diane von Furstenberg x H&M Home, products from £ 17.99, in-store and at hm.com.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg is now launching her first interior range in H&M Home.
She brings her signature statement prints to products such as glass vases, plant pots and even espresso cups. The collection will be available online and in selected stores from tomorrow.
Designer Diane von Furstenberg launches her first interior collection in H&M Home (photo), with her signature statement prints
JOHN LEWIS MEANS IKEA
JOHN Lewis Anyday, prices start from £ 1.50, in-store and at johnlewis.com.
The company has launched its new budget line Anyday with 2,400 items a fifth cheaper than the other stock, including a 12-piece dinner set for £ 40 and a high chair for £ 35.
HOMEWARE HITS MONSOON
MONSOON Boutique Store, Marylebone High Street, London, items from £ 30. Also available at monsoon.co.uk.
Almost a year after hiring, Monsoon opened a new boutique concept store in London this week.
In addition to stocking women’s clothing and children’s clothing, it is one of the few nationwide that has started selling household items.
The collection will soon be expanded to include plaids and twisted tie-dye candles.
Available in store in Westfield, London, and at lauraashley.com and next.co.uk.