Laura Ashley dress

Although today this cotton dress looks like it could have come from the 1890s, it was the latest fashion in the 1970s. Mini dresses gave way to maxi dresses – long floaty nostalgic flowery frocks and wide brimmed floppy hats. Laura Ashley was a pioneer of the new style. Similar floral dresses have been very fashionable in the summer of 2023, and vintage Laura Ashley garments are sought after on-line.

This fabric pattern is known as ‘Peacocks’ and today, more than 50 years later, is widely available as a wallpaper design. Laura Ashley designed the fabric and the dress, both inspired by earlier 19th century designs.

Laura Ashley was born in 1925 in south Wales and built up a huge fashion and house interiors business  with her husband Bernard, starting in 1953 on their kitchen table in London. She designed the patterns, heavily influenced by early 19th century printed cottons in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and he printed them. The first product they made were printed scarves which were instantly popular, selling through high street shops and via mail order. Audrey Hepburn wore one in the 1953 film ‘Roman Holiday’. The Ashleys moved to mid Wales and set up a factory in Carno in 1959 after their original one in Kent was flooded.

Early dresses, like this one, have labels saying ‘Dyers and Printers, Made in Wales.’ As the company grew, the dress labels changed to ‘Made in Great Britain,’ and later examples include ‘Made in Romania’ and  ‘Made in Holland’. The clothes were well made from sturdy natural materials like cotton that could be easily washed and did not quickly wear out – today they are an excellent example of sustainable fashion, especially the pieces made in local factories.

Storiel has a collection of Laura Ashley costume from the 1960s to 1980s – three dresses, a skirt, and a coat from the 1980s. We have a large textile collection and continue to collect appropriate items up to the present day. Laura Ashley was a Welsh designer, and the Laura Ashley clothes we have were owned by local people, and all except the coat were made in Wales. We also have several 19th-century dresses and patchwork quilts with pieces of fabric from the early 1800s which could have been the inspiration for Laura Ashley’s designs.