Celebrating the Preppy Lifestyle and it's sensibilities


I've always fancied Laura Ashley's Style.  I love her very feminine approach to ladies garments.  At first glance, she may remind us of our own Lilly Pulitzer, but not quite.  While Lilly's style exhibits the Palm Beach Resort look with its burst of colorful floral patterns, Laura exhibits the calm subtlety of the English Countryside.
While cleaning up at my grandmother's home, I stumbled across an old Laura Ashley Catalog, via 1997 and thought I'd share a little of her timeless style.

She was born September 7, 1925 amidst farms and villages in her native Wales.  This no doubt had a major influence in her work.  In her lifetime, her name became synonymous with simple and gracefulness in women fashions.  Her style, which was an influenced by puritan function and Victorian charm, became a favorite amongst a whole generation. "Living quite remotely as I have done," she once said”, I have not been caught up with city influences and we just developed in our own way”. She declared about her success: "It's not really a question of inspiration. What you make as a designer is an expression of yourself. I love music and painting and I prefer life in the country." 

A major influence on her dress designing was her uniform as a Wren in World War II. She would later say, "The uniform was a very good quality navy gabardine and you could press it and wear it with a clean white cotton shirt and collar and tie. There was a nice, cheeky little hat and comfortable black leather shoes."  It was during this time that she met and married Bernard Ashley, an engineer in 1949.

As fate would have it, while working as a secretary and raising her first two children, she undertook some development work for the Women Institute on quilt work. Taking up the craft, she had learned 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.  The couple had invested £10 in wood for the screen frame, dyes, and a few yards of linen.  Very soon after the Ashley’s scarves became a huge success.   So much so that Bernard quit his job and devoted all his efforts to his wife.

In 1975 Laura turned down the offer of an Order of the British Empire (she was upset Bernard had not been offered one). 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.
Laura and Sir Bernard were a great complement to each other - both inside the business, and in their personal life. 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. Sir Bernard Ashley was the company chairperson and Laura kept a close eye on fabrics. The astonishing success of what proved to be the ultimate cottage industry, bought the Ashley’s a yacht, a private plane, a French chateau in Picady, a town-house in Brussels, and the villa Contenta in Lyford Cay, New Providence, Bahamas, just purchased for $8.5 million dollars by TJ Maloney.

 Unfortunately, fate would again rear its ironic face again.  In 1985, on her 60th birthday, while she was visiting her children in the UK, Laura fell down the stairs and taken to hospital in Coventry, West Midlands; she died 10 days later of a brain hemorrhage.


 As you can see by the photos, the style that she created, is not only beautiful but timeless as well.

All photos were taken from Laura Ashley's Spring into Summer Catalog, 1997.  The last two photos were taken from Laura Ashley, USA.

The Preppy Times

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