Laura Ashley

Laura Ashley

Laura Ashley

Last updated: 14 November 2008

Fashion and fabric designer who created a global company and brand.

Born Laura Mountney in Merthyr Tydfil in 1925, Laura Ashley became a hugely influential designer of clothes and fabrics who launched a global empire.

Raised as a Baptist and educated in London, she married Bernard Ashley in 1948 and settled in London. Laura had her first success as a designer after selling her designs for headscarves, table mats and napkins to John Lewis.

With the business burgeoning, the couple opened their first factory in Kent as the Ashley Mountney Company. But Laura missed Wales, and soon after the family moved to Powys.

They first set up their new business in Machynlleth, but soon moved on to the Old Railway House in Carno near Newtown. More factories soon opened in Mid Wales, and by the mid 1970s Laura Ashley dresses were being sold across Europe. Stores were opened in Llanidloes, London, Paris, Geneva and Brussels as the company's distinctive designs and floral patterns gained popularity.

Business boomed, and by 1981 they had over 5,000 outlets throughout the world, and had expanded into home furnishings.

Two more factories opened in Newtown and Wrexham in the early 1980s. Yet on her 60th birthday in 1985, Laura died after falling down a flight of stairs at her daughter's Cotswolds cottage. She is buried in a churchyard in Carno.

A year later the company floated on the stock exchange, with a value of over £200 million. However, changing fashions led to a steady decline in fortunes, and by the late 90s the company was making a loss. It was bailed out in 1998 by Malayan United Industries, which took a 40% stake. In 2004 the former headquarters at Carno closed.

Today the brand remains world-famous, though its quaintly old-fashioned designs continue to struggle against cheaper and more modern mass market alternatives.

Sir Bernard Ashley was knighted in 1987. He opened Llangoed Hall, a country house hotel near Brecon, and in 2000 he created Elanbach, a fabrics business.

He died aged 82 on 14 February 2009. He had been suffering from cancer. His family released a statement saying he was "a larger than life character, very outgoing and social.

"Perhaps his greatest gift was the loyalty and love that he engendered in his employees. His two small businesses in Wales, Llangoed Hall Hotel, and the textile printing company, Elanbach, continue to flourish as a testament to his inexhaustible energy."

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