Monday, January 23, 2012


Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

What makes a good brand? For me, it is knowing what I am buying into. Often, that means I feel like this brand knows me and wants to dress a girl like me. But it also means that I want to be their girl. It's a two way thing.

In the 70s and 80s, a great swathe of young women wanted to be the Laura Ashley Girl. She was pretty, feminine and spent her days romping through fields with ruddy farm lads. Well, that was the fantasy. My Mum was a Laura Ashley girl; she would buy the fabrics and make dresses herself, mixing and matching the ditsy and overblown florals which everyone recognised a mile off. But she was no country bumpkin; she worked in an office in a big city so Laura Ashley was a 'dreamy escape'. In the same way that fashion now emulates the Mod styles of the 60s every other season, Laura Ashley revived the Edwardian styles, 60 or so years after they had first been popular. The fashion dream built by Laura Ashley coincided with Fleetwood Mac and their seminal Rumours album and a general love of all things sweet, laid back and romantic.
This could be from the 1910s, but it's 1980, by Jane Ashley
With this strong history in mind, it's odd to think that Laura Ashley isn't really on the fashion radar any more, it's where Middle England goes for its curtains. However, The Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey is currently exploring the brand's heyday with a display of Jane Ashley's (eldest daughter of Laura and Bernard Ashley) photographs as part of the museum's Catwalk to Cover exhibition. The small display also coincides with Uniqlo's collaboration with Laura Ashley on a collection of t-shirts printed with designs from the brand's rich archive.
Uniqlo x Laura Ashley tees. Prices start at £8.50, from 6th Feb
Uniqlo have taken prints from the Laura Ashley archive and revived them on tees

All Jane's pictures featured her friends and family, and personified the brand- no mean feat
Jane's photography is beautiful; all soft, overexposed greys. The titles are charming- 'Lucy and Tim in Wales' or 'Dorothy and Robina'. She was enlisted by her parents to experiment with creating photos which they could use in their shops. The results were iconic images which became just as significant, in terms of creating a brand, as the clothes and fabrics sold in the shops. They create a link between what you see on the hanger, on the roll and what you can make of it, what it will do for you. These are not images posed by models who pretend to represent what it means to be a Laura Ashley girl either. They are the Ashleys' friends and family so they really are living the life which inspired everything the store stood for. I went to a reception which was attended by  some of those involved in the photos- I loved that they were chatting away in Welsh, laughing and recalling those times. They really lived that life. It made me want to be a Laura Ashley girl.
Pretty florals on a sweet tee are where it's at for Spring, as showcased at Erdem (image from
This is Lucy and Tim in Wales, by Jane Ashley

For those of us that are curious, this is the right time to rediscover what Laura Ashley is really all
 about.  The exhibition is a good starter. Uniqlo's t-shirts show the prints off in a great, modern 
way. It's a starting point which could see the prints exploited as amazingly as Liberty's archive
 is. They should be resurrected. SS12 couldn't be a more perfect moment with tees and florals
 being two of the season's most pervasive trends.As usual with Uniqlo's tees, a percentage of
 the sales is going to charity (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) which
 is a huge bonus. I'll be wearing mine with a broderie anglaise skirt for a country 
walk this Summer... Now I just need to learn Welsh. 

The tees will be available at Uniqlo from 6th February

All images, apart from tees, are by Jane Ashley and by kind courtesy of the family archives.

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