Exploring the Archives

4 January 2013

Laura Ashley sketch design

One of the biggest blogger faux-pas is to forget your camera.  If you have an important event coming up, it's akin to the feeling of forgetting your gloves on a freezing day.  Even more annoying than that?  Forgetting the battery.  A rare charging cost me the chance to take some decent pictures of the Laura Ashley press day a little while ago, frustrating especially because they'd set up a section of their vintage clothing archive at the entrance.  Think sailor dresses, wallpaper florals and tartan midis rivalling any 2012 find.  As someone who has stumbled across a few of their past pieces myself, I've always been fascinated by the brand's heritage and how unique each piece can be.  Founded in 1953, the company was a way for Ashley to make her private dream world a reality and breath new life into traditional 19th century patterns and shapes.  Unable to find the kind of fabric she wanted for some patchwork quilts, she set up a makeshift print studio in her kitchen and started off an aesthetic that would eventually be loved for its romantic feel.  Luckily the pieces I saw had a permanent home and I swiftly arranged a visit to see the collection at their West London headquarters with Olivia, complete with a fully-charged camera and empty memory card.  At long last I've managed to edit down the snaps of a rare productive morning, so here's a hint of what the archives have to offer.

Vintage calendar on a pinboard
vintage Laura Ashley floral prints
old Laura Ashley books
Laura Ashley vintage 90s sailor dress
Vintage Laura Ashley patterns
Laura Ashley bridal dress

As you may know I love a room when it's bursting at the seams and the archive housed plenty of drawers, shelves and folders full of preserved vintage inspiration.  Even the calendar is from 1977 and occasionally accurate!  We were able to rifle through piles of sketches and press cuttings, complete with a few dubious styling choices but charming nonetheless.  Laura Ashley is one of those fortunate brands with such a distinctive style to draw upon for future designs; there's an even larger collection of clothing and fabrics situated in Wales that is no doubt a dressing-up paradise.  As someone who's a fledgling designer, it was fascinating to see the notes on the carbon copied sketches complete with seemingly tiny costings.  No Illustrator here, I had to wonder what it would be like designing without the procrastinating nature of Pinterest and overwhelming access to worldwide trends.  Their campaigns also had a bit of a rock n' roll edge, with members of The Clash and The Slits donning her wares in some candid snaps taken by daughter Jane Ashley. 

old black and white photographs
Vintage Laura Ashley prints
old Laura Ashley sketches
Penny Farthing Laura Ashley vintage
Vintage laura ashley press cuttings
Laura Ashley vintage clothing 1980s drop waist dress
Vintage Laura Ashley prints
pineapple strawberry and chocolate muffins

Do you have any vintage Laura Ashley pieces?  Here are a few of mine which have popped up on this blog before, found in my local charity shop, via eBay and even at a vintage sale in New York (why oh why did I cut the dress).  I'm sure this isn't my last visit to the archives and I'm secretly hoping they reissue a few of the designs.  A shorter version of that sailor dress has my name on it.  These days fashion trends are a lot broader and increasingly determined by personal style, so I could see some of the collars, lace inserts and country-inspired prints taking on a new lease of life in 2013.

Laura Ashley vintage clothing

If you're curious about finding out more Laura Ashley facts, there's a handy heritage section on their website.

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  1. this look like my type of place! i love seeing where ideas have stemmed from :) ox

  2. Yep forgetting the battery is one, but I think the even more common one that has caught me out so many times is leaving your camera card in the camera card slot in the side of your laptop, rather than remembering to put it *in* your camera before you head off to your event! :D

  3. The lovely Amy (@wolfwhistle) invited me to a fashion show at LFW and I FORGOT MY MEMORY CARD. I had left it in my laptop from uploading photos from a show the day before. I just wanted to rewind time- I was so furious with myself!
    These pictures are amazing. It's not often a brand has such an amazing heritage these days x

  4. great post! :D that sailor dress is so cute :D xx

  5. Great drawings hun, how adorable are your photographs, great eye for beauty and angles indeed! I've just bought my first 3.1 PHILLIP LIM mini-Pashli in a plastic and white texture, I'd say it's quite provoking, do tell what you think ;)

    xx The Provoker

  6. Wow, that looks like a real treasure trove! I love Laura Ashley prints xx

  7. Love these photos! I've got a LA dress that was my moms that I wear all the time in the summer. It was really long but I chopped off loads of the fabric to make it short. xx

  8. Oh my, I love love love these photos! That sailor coat is to die for, I didn't think something could be as perfect - what a treasure.


  9. I love Laura Ashley and I can only imagine how amazing their archive is!

    Maria xxx

  10. Great post I really like your blog. Great job.