POWr Instagram Feed

05 February 2010

NYC Lecture: Living Laura Ashley

An early '80s Laura Ashley design

I thought of Home Before Dark's remark on the memories and connection to generations past imbued in her treasured handed-down sets of china when I came across a picture of "Priory" in Martin Wood's compelling tome on English lifestyle icon Laura Ashley.

"Priory"

Ashley's Priory sheets saw me through high school, college and - dare I admit it? - beyond. Seeing its distinct scattered blooms was like running into an old favorite friend.

Designer and author Martin Wood, who is cornering the market on English country house style with his other monographs on Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler, all published by Frances Lincoln, reveals that Priory was based on a document fabric found at Chatsworth.


swatches from Chatsworth

Apparently, Mrs. Ashley showed up for her appointment at the Duke of Devonshire's palatial manse, donned a smock, and got down to business rummaging through cupboards and piles of old chintz covers. No grand lady here.

Many of Ashley's prints were inspired by archival sources,


like this sprig from a soup tureen.

In fact, the firm of Laura Ashley, founded by Laura and her husband Bernard ("Laura Ashley" deemed by Bernard as more euphonious than "Bernard Ashley") started as a print manufacturer. As both maker and retailer of its stuffs, it prided itself on its low prices as a result of being able to sell direct to customers without a middleman.

Well, if you were living on my side of the pond in the 1980s, bargain prices aren't what immediately spring to mind when you think of Laura Ashley. And you would be right. Wood writes that the Ashleys found greater success in the U.S. by presenting their wares in a more upscale and aspirational way to the American market. Interesting, no?

The Laura Ashley Look: in full flower and ruffle

Laura and Sir Bernard's own Yellow Drawing Room in Brussels

This Wednesday, February 10, Mr. Wood will lecture on "Patterning Nostalgia: The Designs of Laura and Sir Bernard Ashley" in NYC at Scandinavia House, presented by the Royal Oak Foundation. I for one (along with my friend Beth who even worked at the Laura Ashley store in Kansas City while a design student) will be front row for what will most certainly be an insightful AND entertaining lecture on late 20th century traditional taste.

Click here for the details or call 212.480.2889. Mention this post and receive $5 off.

20 comments:

Karena said...

Emily, I loved to shop in the Laura Ashley Shop on The Country Club Plaza when it was here in Kansas City.
Karena

vicki archer said...

This post has bought back all my early Laura Ashley memories too.... I think I even had some floral smocks back in the day...xv

preppyplayer said...

I can't think of one wedding I attended in the 1980's that I didn't wear a Laura Ashley dress.

The whole Laura Ashley aesthetic is still with me today, except now I refer to it as "shabby chic" or cottage.

Miss all their fabrics.

home before dark said...

Hope you enjoy the lecture. Do, of course, report back. It was Laura Ashley that got me hooked on upholstering walls. I still lust for a tented ceiling. But modest 8' ceiling heights and tall husband seems to nix that idea.

Any movement on deciding on your china pattern? Get crackin', you've got memories to make!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

So many memories of Mrs. Ashley's work. And I always think of the young Princess Diana.

I have had the good fortune of hearing Mr. Wood. He is not to be missed.

Teacats said...

In the early 70s I lived near London with my parents -- mum and I would travel by train up to the City -- and visit shops like Biba, Fortnum & Mason, Culpeper (on Bruton Street) and the Laura Ashley shop just on Sloane Square. Mum had her hair done at the nearby Vidal Sassoon salon. Had one of their first petticoats (gorgeous lawn cotton) -- and wore LOTS of their dresses too -- right up to the end of the 80s. There was a lovely shop in Toronto too. The marvellous thing about their design was the compliments I received every single time I wore one of those dresses! LOL! And their home decor was lovely too.

Jan at Rosemary Cottage

Book Redux said...

Laura Ashley now has such a bad name among many for it's chintzy puff-shouldered dresses of the 80s and 90s but Martin Wood's book goes back to the beautiful quintessentially English prints, textiles and papers that made Laura Ashley so important.
Enjoy the lecture!

The Down East Dilettante said...

And my Laura Ashley memories...

Sometimes, many winters ago, when the Palm Beach sun got to be too much for me, I'd wander into the cool of the Society of Four Arts Library, and peruse decorating books. There was often only one other person there doing the same---the very pleasant Laura Ashley..

Rose C'est La Vie said...

I still have one of the original Laura Ashley pinafore (double-sided apron) things (green sprigs on white). I think I only wore it in the privacy of my own home for cod bucolic moments. Embarrassing now. And I wish I hadn't worn out and thrown away a linen tea towel, perhaps her earliest product. I read that she printed them on her kitchen table.


I am always haunted by the fact she died by falling down the stairs, no doubt great polished oak ones. Things were never the same with the company after that.

little augury said...

I definitely did the Laura Ashley-hope you follow up with your lecture notes.

Anonymous said...

What a great photo - it could be the last Tsarina with Grand Duchess Olga. Looking forward to adding this book to my Martin Wood pile. KDM

soodie :: said...

oh my god... this brings me back... those dresses with the big, wide white lace-trimmed collar!

Lisa said...

Thank you for that stroll down memory lane. The shopping I did at the Laura Ashley shop in the Houston Galleria has so many memories. I wore one of her dresses to my husbands graduation from med school. I remember being so sad when i read that Laura Ashley had died from a fall down the stairs.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Rose and Lisa, I TOO have been haunted by Mrs. Ashley's death by stairs - in fact, because of this, to this day every time I am about to descend a staircase, visions of slipping down them flash before my eyes. Shudder!

Marija said...

Because my parents wouldn't allow me to change my own bedroom decor (deemed to expensive and a waste of time), I concocted a brilliant plan to get a dollhouse which I dreamed of decorating in Laura Ashley fabrics. They saw through me. I still feel a little pang when I see those delicate floral prints...

Looking forward to your re-cap after the event!

Reggie Darling said...

There was a time in the 1980s where every wedding I attended the brides maids all wore Laura Ashley dresses. And, yes, they were lovely. At one point the firm came out with a series of prints inspired by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell's art, very nice I recall.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Reggie, I had a pair of "Bloomsbury" jersey cotton pants - they were spectacular. Alas, I was a little too bosomy to wear her dresses - which didn't stop me lusting after them....

Janet said...

I had one of those white shirts with the short puffy sleeves, which I would wear under a Fair Isle sweater vest, with long pearls. Loved it!

Have been perusing the Royal Oak spring lecture series...dreaming of digging out of snowbanks and spiriting myself away to gardens full of English roses.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Home - I think I'm going to stick with the Rothschild bird for dinner and Trad Imari for dessert... now for silver patterns....

pve design said...

One of my dear friends who is not only chic, smart and debonair - had her bridesmaids decked out in Laura Ashley - It was after all the 80's. There was something so charming and so well read about owning a piece of Laura Ashley. I remeber shopping there in the city, just looking and wanting something Ashley to sweeten a hard city life.
Sorry I missed the lecture. Do tell us more.
We must rally to get "home before dark" to come into the light and start a blog - the comments are always so incredible thoughtful and spot on.
pve