As a teen in the late 80s, I was a total Anglophile. I’d spend my afternoons listening to British Rock records while thumbing through the pages of the latest Laura Ashley catalog. I admired the delicate floral patterns pulled straight from the English countryside as I dogeared the pages containing the very same dresses Princess Diana wore. These lazy afternoons were pure bliss.
One summer, my sister and I took a trip to Austin’s former Highland Mall to visit the Laura Ashley store and browse the latest dresses and home goods collections. At the age of 14, this trip was basically the highlight of my life—Orange Julius included. We stood in the home section debating which bedding pattern was the best as we dreamed about how we would decorate our future apartments once we were grown. My chosen selection was a minimalist blue and white floral pattern, which remains one of my favorite fabrics today.
When I returned home from camp at the end of the summer, I came home to find a brand new bedroom with a white wrought iron bed, parquet floors, and the Laura Ashley bedding I had picked out months prior! My mother had even lovingly hung the matching wallpaper border where crown molding might have been applied if we hadn’t lived in a mid-century ranch. This Laura Ashley bedroom was an 80s dream come true!
Laura Ashley successfully created a romantic and instantly recognizable aesthetic that inspired an entire generation of interior designers, stylists, and fashion moguls. But, what is it about the Laura Ashley brand that has a timeless appeal? Decades past the brand’s peak, Laura Ashely is trending again. So my team of Austin interior designers and I decided to examine the enduring appeal of Laura Ashley to determine why it still resonates. We have a hunch that it’s because everything old is new again!
A Brief History of the Laura Ashley Home Brand
Born Laura Mountney in 1925, Laura Ashley and her younger sister spent their younger years visiting their grandmother in Wales. Here, the girls experienced a strict Baptist household holding on to Victorian ideals of years past. Laura’s romanticism of the past and rural countryside began in her grandmother’s lap and would go on to influence her work and brand.
Laura went to secretarial school and eventually moved to London. In 1952, she attended a craft expo at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where she saw bolts of floral fabrics that reminded her of her grandmother. She went home to tell her husband Bernard Ashley that she wanted to make fabric patterns herself, and at the age of 28, took the first steps into what would become her empire.
The couple began making silk-screening textiles at their kitchen table. What started as a hobby quickly turned into multiple orders for scarves. By 1954, the couple officially founded the Laura Ashley company. Bernard handled the financial and operational aspects of the business, while Laura created the iconic patterns that flew off the shelves.
By the 1980s, Laura’s craft project had become a global business—employing 4,000 people in more than 220 stores and grossing over $130 million a year in revenue. In part to Princess Diana’s love of the brand, Laura Ashely clothing, bedding, and housewares became synonymous with 1980s interior design trends, style, and glamor. Laura favored a homemade, cozy, and romantic English countryside look in her creations. In her 1982 book, The Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating, she wrote, “handmade patchworks, needleworks, rag rugs, lots of lace and white starched lines (together with old-fashioned smoothing irons) are all bliss to me.” Unfortunately, three years after her book release and at the peak of her success, Laura fell down the stairs at her daughter’s house and died on September 8th, 1985—just one day after her 60th birthday. The Laura Ashley brand would falter in the following decades without her guiding presence, closing stores in fear of bankruptcy.
However, 2020 saw a reinvigoration of the brand as sales went up. Batsheva launched a Laura Ashley collaboration, releasing new dresses and blouses in line with Laura’s original vision. But, why did the Laura Ashley brand make a comeback almost 40 years after its peak during the midst of a global pandemic?
Why Laura Ashley is Trending Again in the 2020s
The Rise of Cottagecore
As we collectively retreated into our homes, we learned the importance of creating a cozy and comforting interior. As we scrolled our feeds, we witnessed the rise of cottagecore, a new cottage style trend incorporating vintage furnishings, plush furnishings, and Laura Ashley textiles.
The Rebirth of Shabby Chic
As younger generations coined their own version of English cottage style in TikTok videos, older generations fell back to familiar favorites. The beloved shabby chic style of the 80s and 90s made a much-celebrated return. Floral patterns pulled from the English countryside are pivotal to the shabby chic look, and who better to deliver on them than Laura Ashley?
A Collective Sense of Nostalgia
Laura Ashley achieved success because of her embrace of the Victorian past. While other designers looked to the metropolitan future, the Laura Ashley brand brought back a sense of the familiar countryside. In times of disruption, a return to simple nostalgia can be a warm embrace. So as we searched for comfort in 2020, many of us made a return to the trends that defined our youth (and happier days).
The Retreat to the Country
With the shutdown of city life amid the pandemic, many urban residents moved to the country. Those who couldn’t move looked for ways to bring the countryside to them. Laura Ashley’s romantic English country designs struck a cultural cord, tying into the prairie girl and cottagecore trends of the day.
The Comfort Craze
The 2010s were defined by minimalism, stark finishes, and cold color palettes. However, after being confined to our homes for months in 2020, many of us regained an appreciation for maximalism, color, and comfort. Comfort has been reported as one of the top design trends every year following the pandemic. (Personally, comfort is a trend I’ve been behind for decades.) Certain home brands just offer that warm fuzzy feeling, and Laura Ashley is one of them.
The Case for Embracing “Old-fashioned” Interior Design Styles
Laura Ashley brings comfort for so many reasons. I associate it with my 80s childhood and coming home from summer camp to find my dream bedroom waiting for me. For Laura, her brand was a way to connect with the English countryside and her familial roots. In an uncertain world, we need to create wholesome, welcoming, and comforting homes to retreat into. While there is a time and place for sleek modern design, there is something to be said for cozy nostalgia. I think it’s time to curl up with my Laura Ashley quilt and be thankful that everything old is new again!
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Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.