Laura Ashley, one of the world’s best-loved fashion and home furnishings companies comes from humble beginnings. Laura and Bernard Ashley started printing fabric on their kitchen table in London in 1953, following a Women’s Institute exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on traditional handicrafts. Laura was inspired to make her own patchwork quilts, but couldn’t find any suitable fabrics in the shops, so the young enterprising couple decided to try producing their own.
A £10 investment in wood for a screen, dyes and some linen, along with many trips to libraries to learn everything about fabric printing, kick started their fledgling attempts. At first they produced small squares with geometric patterns, which reflected the limited space in their tiny flat.
Around this time the film Roman Holiday was released, and Audrey Hepburn’s headscarves in the film sparked a trend amongst young girls which the Ashleys picked up on when they went on holiday to Italy in 1952. They realised that they had the means and ability to produce small scarves themselves, and within a short space of time, were selling in great quantities to shops including John Lewis and Heal’s. Alongside the scarves, the couple also produced tea towels and placemats, with designs from Victorian advertisements and playbills often with quirky, humorous images.