Explore The Archive

Holly gives us an insight into working in our much loved archive... read more

The Archive is one of the biggest talking points at the Laura Ashley HQ, we love its rich heritage so much so that we thought you might like to read about what makes it so special. We invited archivist Holly to give us an insight into working in the archive and to provide us with brief history about Laura Ashley…

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Last year I graduated from Central Saint Martins where I studied fashion history and theory. There, my understanding of dress and culture was nurtured, both academically and practically. I remember being introduced to all these archives. I found them so mysterious, rooms full of history; almost like libraries of life. In the past, I have archived for other high-end retailers, as well as other private collections.

 

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For me, Laura Ashley has been forever associated with its enchanting prints and vision of elegant country life. The company’s history, however, goes beyond frills and florals and is a meaningful tale of British design. For over sixty years, its sense of practical romanticism, which was cultivated by the Ashleys from the beginning, has prevailed and endured. So when I was invited to act as the company’s archivist, the chance to be a guardian of that heritage was an interesting one.

 

There are rarely two days the same in the archive. One might be spent researching for new season designs, the next arranging loans for an upcoming exhibition and then another buried in the collections, cataloguing and photographing materials for the database. The archive is such a precious resource that it takes time to carefully record and preserve each individual piece.

 

The full archive, which is presently comprised of many thousands of products, is divided between London and Wales, where it is overseen by Ann. She has been with the company for many years and as such has a rare and specialised understanding of its history. Her insights are invaluable, both to the archive and those who use it.

 

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Laura Ashley’s heritage lies at the heart of the company and is its essence, even today. As a result, I can find myself collaborating simultaneously with many different departments, be they related to design, press or retail. One may be in search of prints using butterflies or bees, whilst another will be looking to find out about our Paris stores in the seventies. There’s always some buried treasure to unearth. Customers past and present will get in touch too, with questions or anecdotes they wish to share. This is always so enlightening and can lead to some wonderful discoveries. Occasionally, we are also lucky to receive donations. Most recently these have included a printed smock in cornflower blue that our benefactor wore to be married in 1974.

 

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Personally, the really charming pieces aren’t necessarily the most perfect examples of company heritage. I treasure the chipped Victorian imitation teacups and the way some of the older dresses are frayed at the hem from wear. Their flaws are a reminder of the objects’ journeys and that Laura Ashley has always created designs for real life. Sometimes, it is as important to preserve their stories as much as it is the objects themselves.

 

Along with our extensive product collection, we have cabinets upon cabinets overflowing with inspirational pieces. Often it’s here that designers begin their search for new fashion and interior stories. There’s so much to capture their imaginations from antique fabric sample books to soft furnishings and vintage fashions. My most beloved piece might be an eighteenth century silk gown, which was brought from Christie’s auction house when Laura was still alive. She was a great believer in looking to history to inspire her work. I like to think, were she around today, she’d be proud of the archive and the way it has grown over the years.

 

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Some of my other favourite curiosities include photographs of a baby-faced Kate Moss modelling our wedding dresses, antique patchwork quilts, notes handwritten by Laura herself and wallpaper designed by David Bowie for the charity War Child.

 

If you have any old vintage Laura Ashley items that you would like to kindly donate to the archive where they will be looked after and treasured please contact our archive on 020 7880 5379.

 

We hoped you enjoyed reading about the Laura Ashley archive! Do you have any questions for Holly? Let us know in the comments below or read a little bit more about our heritage here.

40 Comments

I have worked for Laura Ashley for 32 years! My twin and i modelled in the touring fashion shows of the 80s! I still work in Chester Store!

I have recently been given a collection of Laura Ashley dating from the 1980s up to the present day. I realise you probably have them already, but if would like them we are in Hereford.

While sorting out following my mother`s death in 2013, I came upon an original Laura Ashley day dress c 1980 size 12. Terracotta brushed cotton with small flowers. High frilled collar (no lace), long sleeves, buttoned cuffs, pleats over bust. Very nostalgic! Would you like it for your archive?

I have two vintage Laura Ashley ruffled poppy red Floribunda print decorative pillows, possibly from the 1970’s. I can provide photos showing the Laura Ashley tags inside the pillows. I would like to donate them to the archives. I’m in the U.S. Can you provide the mailing address for donation?

I have several old Laura Ashley dresses including my wedding dress, still with the odd bit of confetti in the ruches. I saw it in on the front of a magazine and new it was the one. It was the only wedding dress I tried on. Delightfully, my daughter wears a floral red dress of mine quite frequently and thirty years on it still looks lovely. I have some blue prom/ball dresses shot with silver so if you do not have these in your collection I would be happy to donate them.

Hello ,
Hello,I use to work for the company as USA Merchandise Manager from the mid to the late 80’s .This week I have been clearing my attic and I have I found 3 archive boxes of photos and many folders of additional information about the collections offered at design meetings . Are they any good to you?

We have been donated in our charity shop a vintage corduroy long Laura Ashley cloak (Made in Wales). Please could you help us with any information/history about this piece. We do have photos if this helps.

I was wondering if you have a catalogue of all the Laura Ashley prints used on her 1960s and 1970s dresses.
At present, I am preparing for a Laura Ashley exhibition, in the museum where I work. I was kindly given the book Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine. The book contains information on some of the prints used on her cotton dress designs of the 60s/70s.
It would be great to be able to identify as many of the prints as possible on the collection of dresses that we have in our collection and catalogue this information. I was wondering if this information was available.
Thank you

Why on earth don’t Laura Ashley re-launch some of their original fabric patterns as a “Vintage Collection”. The old patterns are ten times as good as the new ones and a lot of people (including myself) love the old designs (as shown by the comments on your Archive).

I would like to contact someone in the Archive to ask about a certain fabric but not sure how I can contact you?

I am a successful author of books on fashion and textiles, I am currently writing a book on the art of the British tea towel. I would very much like to include the Laura Ashley story. I wonder if you have any tea towels in your archive?

I am trying to identify the style and fabric of a dress I bought in 1973. Is there an email address I can write to so I can give details and send photos?

I have a full length dress which I know my mther wore pre 1978. I would love to know more about this dress.

I have a laura Ashley corduroy jumpsuit from what I think is from the 80’s, it belonged to my Nana and I am writing an essay about it for my fashion/textiles history essay, is there any chance anyone would have any more information about it?

I have just purchased an oatmeal colour linen coat from Ebay. The label says
“Laura Ashley
Manufacture De Vetements Specialex
Pour L’Alimentation
Paris
Halles-Villette
M D

I’ ve never see this label before. Don’t know if its genuine. Only paid £20 for it so if its not thats fine.

Do you know anything about it. Regards, Kim

I wonder if you can help. we have a Laura Ashley, made in wales 1970’s dress “Bo peep bustles” on each hip, bell sleeves, beige flowers. we have scanned the archives and cannot find any images of this dress with the bustles, thank you, hoping you can help.

Would it be possible to have an email address for the archive team so that I can ask about the date of a piece? I know that you have items from the same range in the archive as I have seen pictures on a blog by someone who visited. Thanks.

Hi I have an old towel that I would like to known more about , can I send you an image. Thanks you pholy

i was a model for the first kids collection ….in the end 80’s. …but nothing left of that….do you know iff i can find any photos of that year where the kids collection started?i remember being on the cover of laura ashley’s magazin that year with a blond little boy. ..we were probably or 5 years old….i have looked for it all over….any chance you can find this?

1983 Wedding dress, pin tucked, high necked, cream seersucker fabric, absolutely beautiful now and way back when…have recently downsized it’s wrapped in tissue in the original box, bought in Fulham for £100.00 – would you like it for your archive? I’m based in South East London

I have a 1983 wedding dress – flounced bottom, leg o mutton sleeves and pie crust collar in seersucker and has a broad long sash. I also have a Victorian nightdress , same vintage and rather demure for my wedding night — which it was! I have my Laura Ashley going away dress in claret velvet, with a broad tie waist and a coffee coloured laced collar. I also have two summer dresses circa 1987. Any use for your archive?

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